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.
Tada! The insights of almost two decades of experience condensed for you. Now start making art already.
Five Things that you need to know about Creativity and Art Making
1. Muses: Rare visitors…
Inspiration rarely comes sweeping in on the north wind, ready to lead you, deliriously, down the road of effortlessness. Before effort though, comes the ability to engage: Even when there’s nothing particular moving you to create something, just playing with the materials without a goal in mind often sets off a chain reaction of ideas and yes, inspiration. Doodle, smear, dab, experiment, cut, roll, paste at random and trust that making art has nothing to do with thinking hard. Should you be aiming to become a professional artist, working hard, on the other hand, should be a daily mantra.
Tip: Borrow a toddler if you’re struggling with making a mess and having fun 🙂
2. Failure: The f-word
If you were, like me, brought up with rigid rules about right and wrong, and wasting things (parents of the war generation…), you might approach art making with fear and trepidation: What if I get it wrong, wasting time and valuable resources? The deeply held beliefs of judging our efforts according to failure or success have been contested by many famous people who created new ideas and inventions. It was precisely through their many failures that they found their way to achievement. Letting so-called failure demotivate you- and it is only your perception which sees it as such- instead of seeing useful stepping stones on the road to success holds us all back from expressing ourselves freely.
Tip: Embrace your mistakes. Be a kind, generous parent to your creativity.
3. Failure part 2: The pauses make the music
If it doesn’t feel right, take a break. Take a step or ten back. Look and listen. Oprah even said it- “..doubt means don’t. Don’t move. Don’t answer. Don’t rush forward” Part of the incredible adventure that is art making is the frequent experience of present moment awareness- if you can tune in to the oft-mentioned flow or zone while creating, you will be able to feel when you’re in need of changing direction. I used to get so obsessed with finding solutions I would ignore those feelings and work myself into a dead end, winding up with negative feelings of irritation, of judging myself as having “failed”. Some days are just not going to make it- accept that perhaps you should rather be weeding the garden, phoning a friend, or taking the dog for a walk. All of which are also creative acts, or beneficial to creativity, by the way.
Tip: Don’t flog a faltering creation.
4. Learning: if the student is ready…
There’s no rule that says you must go to art school. Many good artists, pro or not, never paid for tuition. Learning about techniques, mediums, and art history can happen between you and your buddy Google; plus you will get a diversity of information that a single teacher could not possibly provide.
That said, finding-or being found by – a fantastic teacher can influence your artistic course significantly. Face to face feedback and exchange can be an important, perhaps vital, experience, if the person doing the teaching aims to provide a supportive, patient, and stimulating environment. My discovery of art certainly lay in the hands of my fun, funky and irreverent art teacher in high school. Thanks again, Mrs D’Unienville.
Tip: Find, explore, adapt, develop and trust ways that work for you, ignore the rest.
5. Growth: The importance of past and present creative community
No artist is an island. Broadening your experience of the world, and creativity specifically, by treating it as a community can only inspire and open your mind to a spectrum of possibilities. My connections with poets, photographers, writers, cooks, gardeners, moms, activists, and travellers on the web are not random interactions but fertile exchanges. This also applies to the history of art making, which never ceases to fascinate me, with its myriad of intriguing characters and astounding accomplishments. To quote John of Salisbury, 1159: “We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” That about sums up what the past can effect for the present. Thank you Titian, Leonardo, Cezanne, Vincent, Picasso and all the rest!!
Share your creations without fear- no-one does it just like you. Hoarding whatever treasures you think are yours to guard from theft or criticism only leads to stagnation and art that does not feel joyful to either the viewer or the creator.
Tip: try blogging, timeline surfing or art instead of pills next time you feel down :))
Shoewee. I yet have to count my output for the month, so not sure if I made my goal. But it’s almost the 1st so I needed to post.
Regardless of numbers, I’m amazed at what I thought was impossible to produce. I’m gonna carry on in this vein, so keep watching this space!
To all NaNoWriMo participants, arrived or not, well done and thanks for all of your inspiring words on so many wonderful blogs.
Now why doesn’t the art community have a cool challenge like NaNoWriMo? The BBF (best boyfriend forever), alternating between elation and anxiety about his first ever NaNo, starting Tuesday, got me evaluating my work modus operandi: Time in The studio somehow always lands up last on the list, and I have plenty of very good justifications for this! Oh yessir, no-one could fault me for being handicapped by the Great Three- lack of time, energy, and finances. Watertight alibi. Yet something about the excited collective spirit and the supportive vibe among the writing community I’m witnessing second-hand has infected my busy, mostly art-free little world. What the heck, if you guys can, so can I! And yes, I know that writing about 1700 words on a daily basis is probably much more challenging than getting down some drawing or painting , but relativity is a wonderful thing. If I manage to match this schedule I will be achieving the impossible…so here’s the deal: For every daily quota of words I’ll equal at least one drawing or painting, editing optional 😉 .From the first of November to the thirtieth of November. Any artists out there care to join, bring it on! Any writers need visual inspiration, feel free to browse my hopefully prolific output!
“Lüderitz Jetty” Oil on board copyright Silke Berens
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
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work and the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will, through work, bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never dream up if you were just sitting around looking for a great art idea. And that a belief in that the process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel everyday. Today you know what you will do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday and tomorrow you are going to do what you did today and at least for a certain period of time if you can just work to hang in there, you will get somewhere.”