The mentally challenging nature of artistic activity may help avoid the inconvenience of early senility. I don't know about you, but a steady diet of crossword puzzles to tune up the mind just doesn't cut it for me. I've got enough mind-benders with my painting.
On the other hand, there's the sedentary nature of our business. Long hours sitting at an easel can be as dangerous as computer work or couch TV. Recent studies by James Levine, a medical researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, have surprised and shocked the conventional wisdom. Specifically aimed at understanding the sources of obesity, sensors placed on the bodies of a wide range of folks with similar diets found that those who moved around more and, most important, stood a lot, tended to stay trim and fit. Levine figures we have to stop thinking of food as the source of fatness and begin to understand that it's inertia that does us in.
People who move around, even nervously, and stand rather than sit, also reap creative benefits. According to Levine, even really bad habits can be somewhat neutralized by sheer movement.
There's quite a bit of evidence that Levine may be on to something. Take Winston Churchill. He smoked cigars and drank every day until his death at age 90. "Smoke good cigars and drink fine brandy," he advised. Churchill wrote 77 books (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953), most of them simply dictated while standing or pacing in a cloud of smoke before a lectern in his office. Physical movement was part of his creative process.
While most of the photos of Churchill painting show him sitting, he often stood at his easel. His active bricklaying and gardening are well known.
I recently heard of a workshop instructor who gets his students to lay down a tape on the floor six or eight feet from the canvas. He encourages students to stand behind the line and lunge forward to make strokes, then immediately get back to survey the situation. In an attempt to make myself into a better person, I've been lunging for the last couple of weeks. So far I'm happy with the results, but I'm a bit puffed out. Then again, friends gave me a few cigars for my birthday. And brandy.
PS: "Sitting still is highly dangerous." (James A. Levine)
Esoterica: It's somewhat the same effect you get when you go for a walk. The heartbeat goes up even if you're only pacing back and forth. You may also be burning a few calories (sitting--your calorie burn goes down to one calorie per minute), but the main thing is that the subconscious brain is prodded into a relaxed mode where ideas bubble and confidence rises. Here's a simple test to prove the worth of Churchill's method: Try dictating long, compound, grammatically correct sentences while pacing around and also while lounging on the sofa. Believe me, standing up or pacing wins out every time. That's how this letter was written.
May 20. 2011
See also: More on Walking by Robert Genn in his twice weekly emails (with information on a free subscription).
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