In Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, she discusses three pillars of living an artistic (or otherwise creative) life: morning pages, artist dates, and walks.
Morning pages and walks have always been my favorites. Writing three long-hand pages each morning takes no more than a half hour and leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment, and the same goes for Cameron’s recommendation of a daily twenty minute walk. These walks can be longer, but Cameron insists that twenty minutes is the bare minimum to push through creative blocks.
For me, these twenty (often more like forty-five) minute walks allow me to engage in an active meditation, where I can brainstorm globally and locally on my next writing project.
Her artist dates, though, have been difficult to fulfill. Even without COVID-19 giving me—and many other introverts—tacit permission to stay indoors or limit social appearances altogether, I have always had a difficult time with maintaining these weekly dates.
Cameron says artist dates need not be too elaborate, but are necessary in order to break the routine that creative and introspective people can so easily get into. These dates give the creative person a chance to feed the senses and encourage inspiration.
Something as simple as going to a thrift store and seeing what you find counts as an artist date in Cameron’s book. She usually discourages any kind of purchasing on these dates (barring admission fees for museums) since the act of purchasing can seem like yet another task to be fulfilled and thus cater to routine and regimented ways of thinking.
Artist dates should focus on the five senses: looking, hearing, smelling, touching, and sometimes tasting (though not at a thrift store!) something beyond the usual or daily.
So what are we to do during a pandemic? I still think we can go on artist dates in this new remote world, even if doing so involves some creative tinkering with Cameron’s wonderful concept. Here are a few ideas:
Enjoy museums online
Visiting museums online can help us maintain a sense of wonder without leaving the house.
Many museums, like the Louvre, The Smithsonian National History Museum, and The Women’s History Museum to name a few, have made collections available for online viewing. Plus, with a digital Louvre, you can zoom in on the Mona Lisa and skip the lines.
I also recommend checking out your local museums, historical societies, animal sanctuaries, and other buildings in your area that once offered tours—they may now have cultivated a more active social media presence (or at least displayed a bunch of photos) in order to stay connected. At a time when many of us feel isolated, reconnecting with familiar local history anew can offer ideas and inspiration.
Go outside with a digital guide
Since most community outdoor locations (like stadiums, sports fields, or concerts/festivals) are still mostly on hold—or operating under restrictions—this is a great opportunity to make the familiar and safe around us interesting. Using a digital guide can allow you to explore the area where you live in a brand new way.
My sister-in-law was first to do something like this in our family, and gradually got her parents to use the app My Mission. It’s ostensibly a fitness app, but when you log your miles (or KMs), the app displays another map of where you might be if you were in England. That’s where my in-laws have been virtually trekking all quarantine while they walked their dog. The app gives you a display of the places you pass by, along with photos—the perfect tools to inspire you.
I also like the rather lower tech route I’ve been using: I compare and contrast my usual walk with Google Earth. I will sometimes take photos of a tree or particular monument, then see what it used to look like online, what has been built since then, and how the world used to look. I am continually shocked at just how much the landscape in my area has changed since Google plotted it.
I also encourage you to go on different routes with the same step count or distance count; actively use your phone to see where you can go, and how long it has taken you. In this case, you are filling the well with more of your own vision and insight. Plus, seeing the world through another perspective can give you so much as an artist.
Explore and advocate in a digital landscape
We often think of the internet as a tool—for communication, for information—rather than a place, or more specifically, a place where we might change the world. I encourage you to think like some of the early adopters of the World Wide Web and see it as a unique landscape and ecosystem, without engaging in platforms like Facebook or Instagram or even a search engine.
Use tools like StumbleUpon (now Mix), or another random generator to see where you end up online. Then, treat your location like its own landscape on this type of artist date. What do you see? What do you find? Is this where you’d thought you’d end up today?
Recent protests have turned many people to armchair activism. Once seen as a dismissive term—slackivist rather than true activist—armchair activism has become absolutely necessary. Online forums allow people to hear and amplify oppressed voices while also remaining safe and protecting the public health of vulnerable populations.
So, what can you do from home to help? I encourage you to reconsider your online shopping habits by supporting Black-owned and operated businesses, first and foremost. Be aware of the content you’re consuming and how it impacts others, both on and off-screen.
Something as simple as designating a ‘place’ where you will not venture online for inspiration can go a long way towards supporting equity. Seek out conscientious online places to find and share inspiration with impact. Make an artist date that allows you to serve others..
Take house tours
Using Zoom or Skype to keep relationships going can be a great thing but it’s also another example of the internet serving as a tool, rather than its own environment.
On your next video call with a friend or colleague, ask them to take you on a tour of their house, office, or even their street and backyard. We hardly do house tours anymore in real life (even before the pandemic) outside of a housewarming party. Seeing someone’s private space, even if it’s just their private record collection, reminds us that not everyone sees the world as we do.
Note: if you don’t have friends or colleagues who are willing to do this with you, try looking at house listings online. These can offer great insight to the daily life of people, some of whom will always be anonymous to you, especially when you build and brainstorm on what’s not there.
Incorporate extra senses
Add a little magic to your mindless scrolling by incorporating another sense. Since we often engage with the online world using our hands and eyes (touch and sight), adding a stick of incense to your computer desk can make your data entry explode into three dimensions.
I often listen to music as I grade my student papers because it gives me that same 3D feeling, which then allows me to connect to my students as if they were in a room. Gum, drinks, or something like hard candy that you can suck on also adds another sensory experience to something quotidian, which can elevate and encourage memory.
Make a great artist date with yourself
What you want in an artist date is clear: the ordinary examined from a heightened or new perspective.
Ultimately, we turn these novel experiences in our everyday by showing up each week for the date, no matter how limited we might still be in this new world. I’ve still been doing these artist dates, even as restrictions loosen in my area, since I’ve now seen the benefits of viewing the internet as more than a tool.
It’s a place, an experience, and some of the best people I know seem to inhabit only this space for now. We may as well enjoy it, treat this new digital life as a possible sanctuary, and in the process, I can only hope we will be kinder to one another, as well as inspired.
If you enjoyed this blog on artist dates, check out other great pieces for facing COVID-19 as a creative.