Greene mentioned that the artist’s speed has long fascinated collectors and the press. But that’s not the full story of her works—it can take multiple attempts for the artist to achieve her intentions for any one canvas. Instead of a single day, “you could say that a painting took three years to make, because [Yiadom-Boakye] made it over and over again, and discarded or changed it,” Greene said.
While Yiadom-Boakye’s all-in-one-sitting process has certainly contributed to her mystique, she’s hardly the only artist to complete works within 24 hours. Examining other instances of swift artmaking reveals more about our obsessions with time than anything else. We’re all racing against the clock to complete our own projects and live the lives we envision for ourselves. Artworks made in a single day can serve as symbols of such striving. Viewers’ preoccupations with how long it takes to make a painting—and their frequent skepticism at a brief process—also betrays how much we buy into the myth of artistic struggle: It’s easier to value intensive physical labor over conceptual rigor when an artist’s thought process can feel so intangible and impossible to grasp.
In truth, most cultural experiences deal with time. It might take you a week to read a novel. A play or film lasts around two hours. A song plays on the radio for about three minutes. It’s more difficult, however, to bracket the process of looking at a work of visual art. Unlike filmmakers or writers, painters and sculptors have little control over their audience’s attention spans. A sense of time isn’t embedded in their media, which offers visual artists a unique provocation or challenge.