Art as Discipline

Posted by Gregory Johnson on

This is a tough one. Also critical. Since I retired from my regular job, I have approached this undertaking as a new job; meaning that I allocate time and effort toward the ultimate aim of success. But therein lies the rub. There are many artists who are disciplined and many who are not. It's more a matter of personality and motivation, the end result in any event to produce a work of art in which the artist is well satisfied.

So, here's what I try do to achieve that end. (Notice how I said "try"?) I am not by inclination a very disciplined person, and the only motivation I have is to create a great piece. Without this, I suppose I'd just stay in bed.

1. Upon getting up, I make my bed. That's right. No better way to start a day then to manipulate my environment. And face it, a messy bed is micro-stressful, even to a lazy person. So I take control.

2. Avoid the damn phone. It can wait. You want an addiction? There it is. I have had only spotty success at this; it draws me in, even if I only looked to find out the temperature.

3. Exercise. For me sometimes it the exercise bike, or getting out and raking leaves. Get the body moving. Sleepy groggy is gone.

4. Shower and dress in something other than pajama pants. There's something about being lazily dressed that translates to having a lazy mind. My mind is lazy enough.

5. Meditate. I would recommend this to anyone. It clears that lazy mind and teaches relaxation of the body. If you don't know how, well there's that damn phone...

6. Make a list for the day of things you want to accomplish. They may not be all art related, but lists help me to clarify what I want from this particular day. And I love crossing off each one.

7. Oh yeah, art...this is weird for me because I'm the type that waits for the muse, and it shows up when it wants. I just make sure I'm paying attention, if I can. (Notice I said "if I can?") Whaddya, think I'm perfect? Not even close. If I'm not especially inspired, I practice. If I am talking about art as discipline, it's all about practice. For instance, I am weak drawing hands and feet, so I practice that by using images from that damn phone. I read. Not always about art. I'm reading Kerouac right now ("Satori in Paris"). Google the masters, especially the ones that are light years away from your interests. Practice. If I'm paying attention, the idea will come, and I will run with it obsessively until I've finished, or ruined it. Most of my work is done at night and if I'm on a roll, I'll be working to midnight and beyond. Did I mention practice?

 So it's not nine to five or 8 hours or anything like that. It's what works for me. But please understand: the artist must serve the work. I have the luxury of being retired and have the time and energy to devote to this. If you're working a day job or have decided to take the leap and do this full-time, a personal discipline is absolutely essential. Ultimately though, it's about the art. Can I add to the culture in a meaningful way? Am I honestly answering the call of my inner muse? Am I completely satisfied with the end result? Because if I'm not, well then, where's that damn phone?