“Working artist” is a redundancy. What counts as work? In her diary, Eva Hesse calculates “10 hours for myself” over 16 waking hours. She doesn’t clarify which activities counted as “for myself” and which did not. Were “letters” for herself? Was “lunch”?
I woke up one morning to discover I was a “working writer” with a full-time job and bills and laundry and dependents. Because—due to sleeplessness and prosaic bedlam—my brain was suddenly hidden from me, I thought a lot about fog. When I was a child, my family spent many summers on a small wooden boat lost in the fog. It was my job to sit on the foredeck and spot, through the opaque grayness, the navigational aids we needed to figure out where we were, and how to get where we were going. In visibility conditions of less than 10 feet, the fog played tricks; it loved paradox. The red nuns or green cans I’d sense, as fleeting, floating objects in my peripheral vision, disappeared when I stared at them directly. I could only see them if I didn’t look at them.
To make more space to write as a “working writer”—to take advantage of my limited visibility conditions—I had to convert my perceived lack of time into an abundance of it. “Dishes” and “lunch” became acts of daily, enforced, peripheral seeking. I recently solved, without consciously trying, a major creative problem while sanding a door. Now, the hours I spend not writing (hours once defined as not “for myself”) are stealth opportunities to gather and utilize the otherwise random screws and lug nuts of my day.
Inspired by Hesse’s diary entry—as well as the diaries of Louise Bourgeois and Frida Kahlo and the work of artists like On Kawara—I invited artists living in New York to represent how they fill, experience, and account for time. The brief was as follows: Keep a record of your activities over a single, 24-hour period. Your accounting can take any form or number of forms, involving random thoughts, objects encountered, amount of money spent, images, video, sound. You can respond in a succinct, Hesse-ian fashion, or you can be more loquacious—whatever time permits and inspires.
We’ll be sharing these daily accounts (including my own) on Magazine in the coming weeks. The “days” we received prove that how time is subdivided, defined, documented, and visualized by each artist is as interesting as what, on the surface, happens during time. As Kawara’s I Got Up series prophesied, each “day” shares one commonality: All artists, if only by implication, wake up.
Heidi Julavits is a professor at Columbia University and the author of the New York Times Notable book, The Folded Clock: A Diary (Doubleday, 2015). With Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton, she edited the bestselling Women in Clothes (Blue Rider 2014). She is the author of four novels, among them The Vanishers (Doubleday, 2012), a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the PEN New England Fiction Award.