Vincent Van Gogh painted about 2100 pieces of art in his career — most of them during an incredible creative streak.
I learned this when I had the pleasure of attending the Immersive Van Gogh Experience in Orlando.
I knew about Van Gogh, of course. Sunflowers, windmills, starry nights, and cutting off ears. . . but one thing I didn’t know was how intensely time limited his painting career was.
According to Wikipedia:
In a decade, he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which date from the last two years of his life. [Emphasis mine]
Two years, to create nearly 2,000 pieces of art.
The mind boggles.
He started painting in 1881, and his early works were mostly still lifes using dull colors. After moving to Paris in 1886 and meeting Gaugin, he started using the brighter colors we associate with his work, and he developed the style we identify with him today and which became a model for painters who came after him.
This trajectory is common amongst super-productive creatives.
The creative person spends a long time experimenting and trying out new things. Then they zero in on one thing and enter into a hot streak, according to author Elissaveta M. Brandon.
“Before a hot streak, you’re unusually exploratory, then when a hot streak begins, you’re unusually more likely to focus on this one area,” says Dashun Wang, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study.
The study concludes that you can’t just keep exploring. At some point, you need to double down on one technique, style, or niche. Nor, if you want to be super productive, can you simply zero in without the previous wide exploration.
Although his paintings fetch some of the highest prices in the world when auctioned today, Van Gogh sold only two paintings and a few drawings during his lifetime. If he had needed to sell his paintings to support himself, would he have spent the necessary time experimenting before he exploded into his new technique and style?
It’s an unanswerable question, of course. But, if you would like to improve both your creativivity and your productive output, first spend time — lots of time — experimenting. Then, when you’re ready to focus – kapow! Super productivity.
This article was first published in Newsletter Issue #28.