I was chatting to my son’s squash coach the other day. He mentioned that none of our country’s top players have the discipline to play themselves on the squash court, which means playing the same shot hundreds of times… this seemed to imply to me an explanation of their lack of presence on an international level. I drew a comparison with art, where I’ve made similar observations: if someone is not willing to practice the same thing over and over again, they won’t advance as far or as fast. The coach added that in his experience as an English teacher, he always spent time teaching kids discipline, which usually lead to them having better self-discipline; an invaluable attribute in his opinion. Now that might sound terribly old-school, conjuring visions of corporal punishment, petty rules, and intimidated kids. But I think what he was referring to is discipline in the sense of structure and boundaries, which I have come to realise makes perfect sense in my own teaching experience:
I started off being nice. Ha. Chaos and mediocre creativity, even at university level. When I made it clear-unsmilingly- what I expected of my students in terms of punctuality and work ethic, set them challenging tasks, and had no mercy for lame excuses and negative attitudes, output and standard soared. They loved me, and I wasn’t nice. A revelation, especially for a woman 🙂
Now the real sticking point is of course the application of all of this insight to myself.
I struggle to finish my paintings. I have little discipline. Unless there’s a deadline like an exhibition opening forcing me to get on with it, I have problems carrying through the original impetus, procrastinating until the work has lots of all of its original appeal/reason. New Age advice has me search my chakra balance/childhood/ascendant for causes of this. So far, I have self-helped admirably in some areas but not when it comes to my art. I obviously need a stern tutor such as the squash coach, who looks like he can deliver!
So what to do when you only know the kind of discipline that leads to repression, depression, and denial, and must therefore be avoided? Thanks to an authoritarian upbringing I’m unfamiliar with constructive discipline. I rebel at the mention of daily practice, even though that is what I teach others. My excuses are many, but I’m getting bored with my own dysfunction here. There are times when I think that I’m just not cut out to be an artist, and should rather spend my spare time teaching my kids self-discipline 🙂
Anyone out there willing to share/suggest/coach?
Some of my unfinished paintings. Sigh.
It sits on my easel, in shades of blue, and elicits a daily quota of sighs. Some are listless, most are downright depressed.
I swear to myself that one day I will be confident- or successful, does confidence come with success?- enough not to have to endure this horrible exercise in creative frustration. The curved horizon is a problem apparently, but I’m not far enough into the work to be able to give that particular suggestion the middle finger… I feel stifled, controlled, stopped in my flow.
To think I was excited at the start of it- a trade for a painted lounge, a long neglected form of avoiding the pitfalls of a cash oriented society; my hippy alter ego proud and singing songs of peace and liberation.
Until the demands set in. No not like that, more like this, must work with coral red wall etc etc . I’m told by more assertive artists that I should stick to my guns or rather my brushes, and provide a clear message of what you get is what you get- trusting The Artist to get it right without questioning or interference. But hey, I want the client to be happy, and tell his friends, so I’m willing to compromise. There’s always my more serious work to express my unique genius with, I try to console myself.
Still I rebel against the external censorship. I wonder if my students feel like this when I comment on their work.
I should count myself lucky that there’s no urgent deadline to this deal, but on second thought it would force me to make decisions and just get on with it- stoicism can also lead to liberation! Go Wall Street go. I’ll take my cue from you Bravehearts all over the world and march on.
The city is alive with purple. Carpets of pulsating petals lie at the sides of almost every road, while the massive blooming crowns of the jacaranda turn a monochrome skyline into a poem. Each small breeze showers micro rains of violet drops. Creamy white butterflies whirl by, gusted in happy clusters. Spring in Africa is brief yet joyful, a short pocket of mildness and fragrant growth before the heat flattens and slows the beat of life.
I’m painting, thanks to spring. When the jasmine sent its luscious scent my way, I felt a shift in my long struggle with doubt and fear. A tireless, and sometimes merciless, watching preceded this shift. Watching myself from every angle, watching for the truth and the lies, and with the seeing had to eventually come insight. Followed by compassion and eventually action, though it felt at times as though I was stuck on some hellish repeat button, dooming myself to a socially accepted brand of insanity.
How many of us are living lives of quiet desperation. The ones whose desperation starts to make a noise we send away and/or medicate into submission.
What is the sound of sanity?
I wrote the following piece before I knew about Indigo Spider’s blog, but after reading some of her posts it feels like a fitting dedication:
this is for a voice in the wilderness, a smile among vacant faces.
colour of deep longing
of secret dreams woven in the dark
inked sister to the sky,
lift my burden
high up where air becomes space
and nothing weighs much any more
sounds turn to silence
float on a shimmering breath
here we expand infinitely
along a silver stranded spectrum