It was Julia Cameron who started the idea of the "Artist Date",* in her book The Artist's Way. The idea is that any creative work draws on a well - or a larder is a more useful image, I think - and if you don't want to run out of creative food and therefore fuel, you have to fill the larder and keep refilling it.
But how do you fill it? A Twitter conversation with children's writer Sally Nicholls has reminded me that people often assume an artist's date has to be about art: painting, or visiting a museum, or playing music. Of course they're wonderful, but they can take some organising and energy, which can be in short supply at exactly the times when you most need feeding and refuelling.
And when you're self-employed, at home, it's so hard to draw the boundaries. So when, many years ago, I instituted my official Afternoon Off, I made rules first for what it isn't: I do not work on writing (my own, or anyone else's), nor on professional or domestic admin, nor on anything which is all about someone other than myself. For a few hours, I am prioritising my creative needs, and telling everything else it can wait its turn.
Nor do I let myself count the daily duty-walk, or do end-of-the-day-type TV-goggling, noodling on the piano, or reading a magazine. That's like snacking on familiar food that's always in my kitchen: what I need is new flavours and fresh nutrients.
So what might you do? Of course it can be creating something: photography, baking a cake, sewing, putting a new piece of furniture together, or splashing around with paints and paper. But the important point is that it's the process that matters, not the product: you're letting your creative self play, not setting yourself a goal or expecting it to "succeed". (Which, if you'd seen my painting, you'd know is just as well) . So although a Date chosen for the pleasure of it might happen to gather material for a creative project, that's secondary to the Date's real purpose.
In other words, as Julia Cameron herself says, it doesn't have to be directly creative, and it doesn't have to contain art:
The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly "artistic"– think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.
For those in need of a suggestion for an Artist Date:
Explore your city: Take a walk, and at every turn, choose the less familiar route. What do you learn about the place you thought you knew?
Go to an art supply store with a $10.00 budget. Treat yourself to whatever inspires you. When you get home, use what you just bought...just for fun!
Visit a rug store--looking at the beautiful handmade rugs reminds me of the beauty in creating a handmade life.
Isn't "festive" a great word here? It seems to me that part of what Cameron's talking about is being present: to newness-to-you in the city, to the colours and textures and sense of the hands which made those rugs, to the cool of that paint on your fingers and the marks swooping and wrinkling the paper - and to the experience of being you, doing these things. Note the solo, too: it won't work if some of your attention is with even the bestest of friends.
So although I might well go to a museum, an art gallery or a concert, I might equally well well head out to a new country walk or a National Trust house, or have a massage or a gym session ending in a lot of lolling about in jacuzzis and steam-rooms. And I very likely will finish with the sort of chilling in a café which only works when I'm relaxed enough to be, again, truly present to the world that's going on round me.
And if your Artist Date has to be fitted in between finishing the email and picking up the children, it can be. You can grab a sandwich, lie on the floor and listen with your whole heart to your absolutely favourite album from beginning to end, and splash a lot of paint about, in ninety minutes…
And if you'd like to share what you would do - or like to do - for an Artist's Date, that would be very helpful, so feel free to post it in the comments!
* Not being German, I'm uncomfortable forcing nouns to behave like adjectives, so in the possessive pronoun goes: "Artist's Date".