The Incredible Work Habits of 12 Great Artists
What does it take to make great art? Work habits and muses may vary.
1. Salvador Dali
Dreams were the greatest muse of the surrealist painter. So Dali concocted a trick to wake him in time to remember these visions. As he drifted off, he'd hold a key, his hang dangling over a metal plate. When slumber made his hand go limp enough to drop the key, its clanging on the plate would rouse him to return to work. Now that's how you power nap!
2. Gerhard Richter
The German visual artist considers himself a willing slave to routine. Each day begins with a walk at 6:15. After making breakfast for his family, Richter goes to his studio until lunch, which is always the same: yogurt, tomatoes, bread, olive oil and chamomile tea. Then he returns to work until it is time for dinner. The routine has paid off—in February, Richter’s 1986 work “Abstraktes Bild” auctioned for $46.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a living European artist.
3. VINCENT VAN GOGH
Unlike Richter’s limited menu, Van Gogh wasn’t picky. At various times he was known to eat his paints and drink turpentine.
4. Willem de Kooning
The Dutch American abstract expressionist was so dedicated to his work that he and his wife Elaine went back to their easels right after completing their wedding vows. Typically, de Kooning rose late in the day, and worked late into the night fueled by a stream of strong coffee and by untold cigarettes.
5. Andy Warhol
The king of Pop Art was an incorrigible pack rat, who filled his four-story townhouse with an array of knickknacks and junk. But when it came time to work, he'd clean up by shoving anything on his desk into a box, which would likewise be pushed aside. Since his death in 1987, Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum has made it their mission to open and inventory the contents each of the 610 boxes Warhol left behind.
6. Henry Darger
One man's trash is another man's inspiration. This reclusive outsider artist, whose work became famous after his death in 1973, fueled his muse by collecting garbage that stood out to him and regularly attending Catholic masses. Sometimes, he'd go to Mass as many as five times a day.
7. Leonardo da Vinci
Since he was far too busy to waste time sleeping, it's said da Vinci partook in polyphasic sleep. Leonardo would take a 15-to-20-minute nap every four hours, which meant he spent two hours or less sleeping each day.
8. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
He worked hard he played hard. This 16th century Italian painter was notorious for the month-long drunken binges that he'd go on in celebration of completing a piece. Sometimes these bacchanals turned violent thanks to a short temper paired with the sword he carried.
9. J.M.W. Turner
Part of the Romanticism movement of the late 18th century, this English painter brought unexpected elements into his landscapes. He stunned onlookers when he smashed powdered tobacco into a still wet work to better suit the lighting of the Royal Academy. Turner was also rumored to spit on his works as a means of binding the pigments. Plus, he grew one of his nails long, the better to help him scrape away paint to create a signature texture.
The High Renaissance master would sometimes let out his frustrations on his statues, screaming at them and thrashing their stone limbs. Take that, David! Attempting to coach up his works wasn’t Michelangelo’s only quirk. He was an infrequent bather and often slept in his clothes.
11. GEORGIA O’KEEFFE
Unlike Michelangelo, O’Keeffe wasn’t crazy about her clothes. The painter supposedly liked to work in the nude.
12. GRANT WOOD
Wood created his iconic painting American Gothic while living in the attic of a funeral home carriage house. To make the digs even stranger, Wood replaced the door to his place with a coffin lid equipped with a dial that let visitors know if he was sleeping, home, or having a party. This little eccentricity pales in comparison to Wood’s other quirk – the artist was such a sweets junkie that he even dumped sugar on his lettuce.