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Artists Need Discipline

Sonal Panse,

Someone I know said that 'should' and 'must' are self-limiting words, especially for artists. There is no 'you should make art', no 'you must work hard'. If you have to force yourself, it is completely pointless, he said, being inspired to do art is more to the point.

Which, from one angle, is true, but then again if you wait around to be inspired and inspiration strikes you once in a blue moon, you won't be producing much or any art, would you?

Artists, I think, do need discipline and this discipline is best enforced from within than without. If you need someone to tell you to make art, then you had best reexamine your reasons for being an artist. Perhaps art isn't the thing you ought to be doing.

On the other hand, if art is an abiding love with you and it is just that little thing called procrastination that is getting in your way, then it is time for a pep talk and the laying down of ground rules. You are an artist, therefore you have to make art, and no arguments about it. You have to make art daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. It need not be a masterpiece, or even, for that matter, any good, but you have to create something.

There are certain days of course when you don't feel like it, life gets in the way and there are urgent issues that must be tackled first, but, such emergencies aside, it is a good idea to establish a workable schedule – it needn't be set hours, just hours that work for you - and follow through consistently without too much leeway for your 'moods'. Be strict with yourself about getting the work done. Being temperamental is not a useful trait to have.

I do understand the sentiments about 'rules are hampering' and 'rules need to be broken', but save these for when you are hands deep in the creative process; break, bend, throw them away as much as you want then. If your desire to not be hampered by rules or to break them equals to your not rousing yourself to even drawing a single line, you are just deluding yourself about how this whole artistic enterprise really works.

Talent is necessary, but not enough. Talent, however great, does not take you far if it is unaccompanied by a solid work ethic. Talent does not grow without regular practice. Talent that is not used is of no use.

Knowing how to talk about art is fine. Knowing how to engage in the art of self-promotion is good. Knowing everything there is to know about marketing is wonderful. It is more terrific and worthwhile, though, to have something really excellent to talk about, promote, and market. That again brings us to making art.

Many of us are relatively lucky. We have our health and our sanity, and the privilege of not living in a war-torn province. This does not mean, of course, that we have no right to indulge in our own grievances, but we might do it with some sense of proportion. We might try to be grateful for the chance to do our work in relative peace, and we might make every effort to not waste the opportunities we have.

The truth of the matter is that you don't really have a whole lot of time to waste. It is a short life, tomorrow never comes, and there is usually some basic truth to cliches.

So, yes, cultivate discipline. Cultivate self-control. Cultivate a garden too while you're at it, it's good for the planet, it can aid with the discipline (you have to water the plants) and the self-control (screaming at the weeds doesn't help), and it can be an uncomplaining model too for your art.