Self-help books and personal development podcasts all tout the importance of having a morning routine. But what— exactly— is the ideal way to start the day? Many experts argue you should begin with your most important task and avoid checking email and social media first thing in the morning. Others contend you should make your bed every single day. Such a simple act is a symbolic gesture: by establishing order in your physical environment, you establish order in your psyche. Still others recommend journaling, meditating and exercising.
Despite our cultural fascination with the most productive way to divide our days, a quick perusal of Mason Currey’s charming Daily Rituals will reveal there’s no one perfect routine. An extensively researched collection of over 160 artists, writers, painters and poets, Daily Rituals suggests there’s no single path to a Pulitzer or literary fame: the only thing that matters is sitting your butt in a chair, no excuses, day after day after day. Whether you work for at least 8 hours like phenomenally productive Joyce Carol Oates or can’t write for more than 2 hours like Southern gothic novelist Flannery O’ Connor, you can write a novel or compose a poem so long as you consistently stick to some sort of routine. Below are how 3 groundbreaking artists structured their days:
1. Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso was many different things to many different people: to some, he was a genius, a god; to others, a devil. At times, he could be charming and convivial, at others, callous and cruel. His daughter Paloma compared him to the center of our solar system: “If you get too close to the sun, it burns you.”
Picasso was notorious for his moodiness and bad temper. When he finished working for the day, he’d join his girlfriend Fernande for dinner. “He rarely spoke during meals; sometimes he would not utter a word from beginning to end,” she recalled. The painter was more companionable when they had guests over but remained ambivalent about entertaining: though he liked to take breaks between periods of intense productivity, he quickly tired of too much frivolous socializing.
Painting, on the other hand, never bored him. Like many artists, he was most content when he was in front of a canvas. For 12 hours a day, Picasso would withdraw to his studio on boulevard de Clichy in Montparnasse. More a night owl than a lark, he’d begin his work day at 2pm, work until 10, have a late dinner until 11, then continue painting until 3 am, long after most of us have gone to bed. The result? Picasso was incredibly prolific, producing over 13,500 paintings, 100,000 prints, 300 sculptures, and 34,000 illustrations.
2. Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol is one of the 21st century’s most accomplished artists. Besides leading the pop art movement, he managed the Velvet Underground, popularized the expression “15 minutes of fame,” and founded The Factory, a hip gathering place for artists, intellectuals, models, musicians, drug users, and drag queens which came to epitomize the nonconformist spirit of the 1960s. Warhol, much like great artists Van Gogh and Chardin, found beauty in the most mundane things. In the same way that Duchamp shocked the world when he submitted a urinal to the Society of Independent Artists in 1917, Warhol broke the barrier between the elevated and everyday. For him, art wasn’t only bowls of fruit and breathtaking landscapes; it could be Coca Cola bottles and Campbell Soup cans, Brillo soap pads and iconic portraits of celebrities.
Though he was notorious for his eccentricities, Warhol deeply valued routine. According to his collaborator and longtime friend Pat Hackett, “keeping to his beloved ‘rut’ was so important to Andy” that he veered from it only when absolutely necessary. Every weekday morning from 1976 until his death in 1987, Warhol— who was obsessed with documenting his day a whole half century before social media— called Hackett and recounted the events of the last 24 hours: the things he’d done, the people he’d seen. Hackett then transcribed and collected these events in The Andy Warhol Diaries.
After his daily call with Hackett, Warhol showered, got dressed and had breakfast. Then he’d go shopping for a few hours, usually along Madison Avenue, then in antique shops, auction houses, and the jewelry district. Between 1 and 3, he’d get to the office. Before doing any real work, he’d check his appointment book, take a few calls, and open the mail, looking for letters, invitations, photographs and magazines for his Time Capsules. A snapshot of both his personal life and the zeitgeist of his age, the Time Capsules were an extensive collection of mementos Warhol kept in hundreds of 10×18×14 inch cardboard boxes from 1974 to 1987. “Less than one percent of all items that he was constantly being sent or given did he keep for himself or give away,” Currey writes, “All the rest were ‘for the box’: things he considered ‘interesting,’ which to Andy, who was interested in everything, meant literally everything.”
After finding material for his Time Capsules, Warhol chatted with people in the reception area and then moved to the sunny window ledge to read the newspaper and leaf through magazines. Eventually, he would go to the back part of the loft near the freight elevator and settle in to do some real work. A socialite who loved a glamorous party, Warhol reserved evenings for socializing. Never the stereotypical reclusive artist, he believed life was a vital part of his art— not an enemy of it. Indeed, Warhol often used his real life for inspiration. An obsessive chronicler of the commonplace, he never left the house without film in his instant camera and often taped conversations. Whether he was hanging with Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger or model Edie Sedgwick, Warhol thought a bit of captured conversation might later supply the dialogue for a play or movie script.
3. Henri Matisse
A French artist known for his expert craftsmanship, bright, expressive colors, and strong shapes, Henri Matisse is considered— along with Picasso— to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century. The father of Fauvism, an artistic movement that emphasized vivid and unnatural use of color, Matisse had a great influence on expressionism and continues to inspire artists today.
“Basically, I enjoy everything; I’m never bored. Do you understand why I am never bored? For over fifty years, I have not stopped working,” Matisse told a visitor to his studio in 1941. This was no exaggeration: over the course of his career, he worked 7 days a week. Though his paintings give the impression that they were created with effortless ease, Matisse confessed he had to labor painstakingly to achieve such seeming simplicity. However, he loved the challenge of capturing his vision in painting. “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life,” he once said, “I threw myself into it like a beast.”
Matisse’s day began at at dawn when he’d head to Club Nautique, where he’d oar in the harbor. After he returned home, he’d practice the violin for a few hours. From 9 till noon, he’d sit to work only to briefly take a break for a nap and lunch. Around 2, he’d pick up his brushes again and paint until dusk.
The French painter followed this rigorous routine even on Sundays. “On Sundays I have to tell all sorts of tales to the models,” he admitted, “I promise them it will be the last time I will ever beg them to come and pose that day. Naturally I pay them double. Finally, when I sense that they are not convinced I promise them a day off during the week. ‘But Monsieur Matisse,’ one of them answered me, ‘this has been going on for months and I have never had one afternoon off.’ Poor things! They don’t understand. Nevertheless, I can’t sacrifice my Sundays for them merely because they have boyfriends.”