Recently I finally sat down and watched the documentary film Gerhard Richter Painting. Recommended by a fellow designer, It is about the German abstract painter and his process. More so, it is a film about working.
There is one particularly familiar scene, early in the film. Gerhard is at a doorway flanked by two large blank canvases. With a ladder and buckets of paint he works on the canvas to the left. After diligently filling the canvas, he steps down from the ladder and says “I’ll let it be for now.” He walks across the doorway to the second canvas and begins painting.
The scene is an unspoken message about a working process. It suggests something like the swing of a pendulum, moving between two projects. In the narrative on creative genius there are often two camps. One is an unceasing devotion, focusing in on the task, zoning out all distractions, working for hours at a time. The other is a frantic flurry, working on any single task only long enough for the next idea to spark new projects. It’s a straightforward dichotomy between ‘mono-tasking’ and ‘multi-tasking’.
But Gerhard, in this moment of the film, finds a solemn balance between the two. He works with efficiency and attention to the canvas. He isn’t concerned with the other one. All of his attention is on the work in front of him. After a while he stops, presumably hitting a block. His works starts to slow, his strokes get less productive. Instead of throwing himself against this resistance he takes a pause. Like water, he simply takes flows past the obstacle and, ideally, will return to it when an opportunity presents itself.
It’s a small and quite scene, but in it I think I can find a method for my own work. To build a process that saves me from fatigue or distraction. Maybe all this process will require is the patience to move from one project to the other and back again, like a swinging pendulum.
img credit: still taken from Gerhard Richter Painting, 2011