How long does it take?

How long does it take?

It’s an understandable question. I’ve asked it of artists myself in regards to a certain work. How long does it take to make a picture? How long does it rain? Every picture is different.

Two legendary songwriters, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are sitting at a table in a cafe conversing about song writing. “I like that song you wrote called Hallelujah,” Dylan says. “How long did that take you?” “Oh, the best part of two years,” Cohen said. They started discussing Dylan’s song called I and I. “How long did it take you to write that?” Cohen asked. “Ohhh, 15 minutes,” Dylan responded.

On one of Johnny Cash’s last recordings he had done a rather short song. Someone in the recording room remarked about it maybe being too short. Cash’s response nailed it. “If I feel like my song was sung then it’s sung. I don’t care how long it is.”

I’ve had successful pictures that were done in a few minutes and I’ve had paintings that I worked on for months with an unsatisfactory conclusion. I remember my teacher once saying that a student makes or breaks the picture in the first 15 minutes and then they spend days trying to make it right. I have a little drawing of a sailboat that I did from imagination in about 15 seconds. I rapidly drew a loose drawing in Ink. Ink don’t lie and you can read each line drawn. The rapidly drawn, fluid lines are part of its charm.

I was with some friends on the way back from a Dylan concert in Rochester, NY. My long streak of doing art daily was in jeopardy. My rule is that I must do some art…good or bad before midnight each day. I hadn’t missed a day in years. It was quarter to midnight and we were still a long way off from home. So I just pulled the car over and got out. I looked around and saw an interesting scene across the the street. I did a quick ink drawing…less than 5 minutes. It wasn’t much but it was an embryo of a painting to be. I painted over the drawing a few days later using my memory and imagination.

“Can I have that picture she asked?” She had just watched do an ink drawing of paint brushes in a pitcher. “No,” I answered. “But it only took you 15 minutes,” she responded. She had diminished the value of my work due to the fact it had only taken me 15 minutes. The length of time it took was a non-factor. It had taken me years of hard work to get to the point where I could do such a thing. When a person spends 5 minutes with a doctor they are not paying for the 5 minutes alone but for the life time of training and study the doctor has invested in. Its the same for an artist. We just don’t get a certificate to hang on the wall stating we are artists.

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