Painting To Find Beauty & Meaning

Highly Creative people keep favored routines.  For ten days I’m posting about the routines of individual Creators, historical and current. My last post: Predictable Life with Scrabble.

Le Corbusier

Swiss Architect & Designer, Writer, Pioneer of Modern Architecture

Le Corbusier’s working hours were implacably regular. During my four years at the atelier, he worked at the rue de Sévres from two in the afternoon to around seven. The hour of 2:00 P.M., I soon learned, was holy. If you were a minute late you risked a reprimand. At first Corbu arrived either by subway (a convenient, direct metro line connected his Michel-Ange- Molitor station with the atelier’s Sévres-Babylone) or by taxi. Later on he started driving his old pistachio-green Simca Fiat convertible. In his last years it would be the taxi again. The process of returning home revealed quite a lot about Le Corbusier’s character. If the work went well, if he enjoyed his own sketching and was sure of what he intended to do, then he forgot about the hour and might be home late for dinner. But if things did not go too well, if he felt uncertain of his ideas and unhappy with his drawings, then Corbu became jittery. He would fumble with his wristwatch – a small, oddly feminine contraption, far too small for his big paw – and finally say, grudgingly, “C’est difficile, l’architecture,” toss the pencil or charcoal stub on the drawing, and slink out, as if ashamed to abandon the project and me — and us — in a predicament.

During these early August days, I learned quite a bit about Le Corbusier’s daily routine. His schedule was rigidly organized. I remember how touched I was by his Boy Scout earnestness: at 6 A.M., gymnastics and . . . painting, a kind of fine-arts calisthenics; at 8 A.M., breakfast. Then Le Corbusier entered into probably the most creative part of his day. He worked on the architectural and urbanistic sketches to be transmitted to us in the afternoon. Outlines of his written work would also be formulated then, along with some larger parts of the writings. Spiritually nourished by the preceding hours of physical and visual gymnastics, the hours of painting, he would use the main morning time for his most inspired conceptualization. A marvelous phenomenon indeed, this creative routine, implemented with his native Swiss regularity, harnessing and channeling what is most elusive. Corbu himself acknowledged the importance of this regimen. “If the generations come”, he wrote, “attach any importance to my work as an architect, it is to these unknown labors that one as to attribute its deeper meaning.” It is wrong to assume, I believe, as [others] have suggested, that Le Corbusier was devoting this time to the conceptualization of shapes to be applied directly in his architecture; rather, it was for him a period of concentration during which his imagination, catalyzed by the activity of painting, could probe most deeply into his subconscious.

(Thank you to the Arch Society and Mason Currey)

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