So I’m ‘back in the saddle’, as it were—painting factory’s in full swing (at the time of writing). And having lived among humans for so very long, I’ve picked up the human habit of, well, looking for um, shall we say, sympathy or, support while I’m, you know. Painting factory-ing.
And while I was bending the unfortunate ear of one of my co-workers I was struck by something she said: ‘Oh no. You have to be super inspired to work on all that.’
Now, it’s not that I don’t appreciate her time or sympathetic ear. And, I am aware that most humans don’t ‘get’ what people like me do in our respective painting factories. In fact, I’m fairly sure that hadn’t been the first time I’d heard something to that effect.
However I would like to set something straight: thinking that artists live on inspiration alone is pure Bos taurus doodie.
Now I know how it sounds—but it’s not what you think.
You know how some things are a lot less, ‘romantic’ than they’re made out to be in the movies or wherever? Like how ballerinas actually have horrible-looking feet, how postcard-perfect tourist spots are hiding their share of the homeless, or how ‘happily ever after’ might actually include taking out the trash and cleaning the toilet.
Art often suffers the same sentimental regard which, while possibly bestowed with the best of intentions, is a misrepresentation, nonetheless.
See, a lot of people seem to have this idea that artists need to be in some, oh I don’t know, forest or, meadow, or, atop some mountain or somewhere like that. They stare into space for a while, and then…bang! They ‘get so inspired’ and then (head) cha-la! Insta-painting. And wow, it’s so beautiful.
Mierda. De Toro.
You know it’s this sort of thing that makes me smile (or smirk) inwardly whenever I hear somebody sigh wistfully and say they wish they had a little studio somewhere… like in the woods, maybe. They could ‘talk to birds’, make a pot of tea, and paint flowers and landscapes or pictures of their poodle and live stress-freely ever after.
Which reminds me of two incidents in particular: One was during my ‘Smalls’ show, when some random guy started talking to me saying stuff like so you just paint, what are you, independently wealthy, or… and I was like no I work to support my art, and he was something like, well how nice, that must be so stress-free for you…
The other time was on the first day of that oil painting workshop I had the honour of conducting this past summer. This dude and I fell to talking about stuff and what he said recalled to my mind what that random guy from several years back said, which was basically, ‘Oh, how nice. Must be great to have such a stress-free life.’
Oh, that it were true, this idyllic depiction of the effortless lives artists supposedly have.
The long and short of it is that no, artists don’t sit around and wait for the inspiration fairy to sprinkle magic dust on them. They don’t ‘get high’ on said dust, and the painting doesn’t just magically appear after some ‘ecstatic trance’ (or vodka-fuelled fugue) artists reputedly enjoy whilst they create.
Okay, so maybe the thing I just said isn’t 100% true because… it is a real joygasm sometimes, eheheh—but that’s not the point. The fact of the matter is, is that the grim reality of art, which every artist knows (and realises whether he accepts it or not), is that art is hard work.
So sorry, but there’s just no sugar-coating this. It’s not inspiration you need to create great art. What you need is discipline.
It’s a far, far cry from the ‘close your eyes, go with the flow, get in touch with your feelings, inner child’ or whatever and the painting just ‘happens’.
Oh, it’ll happen all right. But it won’t without the propensity to work, and the single-minded perseverance of somebody who will stop at nothing to give their vision tangible form so as to be able to share that vision with others.
Like I said when I tried to explain why you should fight for your art, paintings ain’t gonna paint themselves.
But what does it mean to be a disciplined artist?
Sounds like we need to get scolded or spanked on a regular basis, lol.
In a way, that’s true—and the person scolding and spanking you, is you.
Or at least, it should be.
See, being an artist is a lot like working from home. When you work in an office (or go to school), routine and your co-workers (or classmates) sort of ‘force’ you to show up and stick to your schedule. When you work from home, you have none of those (at least right in front of you) to push you to log in and do what you have to on a regular basis. It’s really up to you.
I remember seeing this in one of my forever favourite books. It said something to the effect that it wasn’t unusual for a slave who suddenly finds himself free, after having been driven by his whip-wielding masters for so long, to lose the power of driving himself.
In other words, having discipline means being able to push yourself. It means the attainment of a certain level of maturity to perform what is needful whether you know someone’s got their eyes on you (your boss, your teacher or whoever) or not.
To get into the Gritty-Nitties (XD) a disciplined artist should be able to…
1. Stick to a schedule. You know how writers (as in the novelist kind) have a thing where they have to write X,000 words a day? Whether they write full time or have a job-job to pay the bills, they commit to a certain block of time where they buckle down and get to it—no matter what. This block of time is non-negotiable, inviolate, on pain of mortal sin—you get the idea.
Consistency is key—you have to be able to make this a habit, to make it part of you. Those anime warrior-types hit the nail on the head whenever they say this of their daily training routines. Keeping it up for a few days just won’t cut it. If you want to make real progress and really get doodie done, you’re going to have to be able to set time aside for art and stick to it.
Notice how this has nothing at all to do with ‘painting when you feel like it’ or ‘waiting to be inspired’? Like I said when I talked about how to plan for a show, if I painted only when I felt like it or when I was ‘super inspired’, I reckon I’d have a lot less stuff taking up space in my room~ erm, I mean, in my portfolio, lol.
2. Get priorities straight. Let’s face it, there are only so many hours in the day to get stuff done, and until we have the option to move to Mercury (or Venus), we’re just going to have to learn to prioritise. What’s more important to you—art? Or spending two hours levelling up and item-farming? Painting? Or binge-watching and scrolling + liking? It’s just that simple.
Of course I suppose we’ll have to set some time aside for pesky little necessaries like, oh, sleeping, eating and basic hygiene lol. And some form of exercise, I guess. And you know—your day job, if you have one. Once you’ve figured these things out, refer to no. 1. It sucks, I know, but, you can get back to your grinding, dungeon crawling and so on after the opening.
You’ll have to deal with the fact, of course, that other people will not always understand these particular priorities of yours, especially if they happen to be at cross purposes with theirs (e.g. birthday party, best friend’s wedding).
3. Stay focused. Ever get the feeling that the world’s sole objective is to distract you from doing what you gotta do? You want to paint, and you know you have to, buuut… there’s the internet. There’s your friends on the internet, many of whom are likely your friends in real life. And real life comes with snack breaks, coffee breaks, play-with-your-dog breaks, et cetera.
Ain’t none of us immune to temptation, so when it strikes, refer to no. 2. You’ll need to be firm and to let nothing and no one take you away from your painting factory. Keep your eyes on the prize. Do take note, however, that even if you should be able to form the habit, this will forever remain a challenge—one that isn’t always easy (but not impossible) to overcome.
4. Make sacrifices. Sometimes, being able to do what you love entails giving up something you love—so I guess this, in turn, entails being able to figure out what you love… more? Lol. There are times when you just can’t have your cake, et cetera. Like there were times, maybe, when I wanted to blow my moolers on something but I had to buy paint. That kind of thing.
I dimly recall reading somewhere that Pavarotti didn’t talk for a whole day before a concert—sure, he loved chatting with his friends, but he knew his voice needed to rest. Whether or not I remembered that correctly (or whether it was even true, since the ‘somewhere’ I think I’d read this in was some Sunday women’s magazine), I’m sure you get the point.
5. Do things right. For me, it’s a function of discipline to not only be able to do things consistently, but also correctly. Cutting corners or skipping steps, to my mind, suggests a lack of discipline (or worse, principle). If you can do things step by step, each step conscientiously, allow me to congratulate you on the superior level of discipline you’ve achieved.
Now this is easier said than done, especially when you’re short on time, and I’ll be the first to own the way I’ll take a shortcut when I can get it. Right now, for instance, I’m using store-bought stretched canvas instead of building the frames (or having them built) and stretching and priming the canvas myself—because I am short on time and it’s more efficient that way.
I’ll leave it to you and your Jiminy Cricket to figure out which shortcuts are ‘okay to take’, ‘taken for a good cause’, or even ‘don’t count as shortcuts—because they’re an intrinsic part of my art-making process’. Both of you can likewise decide which shortcuts are ‘just plain lazy’, ’sneaky’, or literally x figuratively ‘not doing things right’ whichever way you slice it.
Okay, okay. Inspiration is NOT total BS.
So, I’m not going to go on and on about discipline. I mean, as someone who’s gratuitously wiped her backside onstage in front of all her teachers during Shakespeare week (behaviour I’m not proud of, by the way) back in uni, I hereby take back what I said. Inspiration is most certainly NOT the digestive waste product of a male bovine.
Or rather, while I do maintain that inspiration alone is not ALL that is required to birth a masterpiece, I will and do allow that inspiration definitely does have its place in the creative process. I’m just saying that it ain’t all there is, or that it’s all that it’s cracked up to be.
Inspiration is good, but it won’t mean a thing if you’re not willing to put in the man-hours and manpower (your own, as likely as not) to act upon it. Like Schikaneder said to Wolfie, “it’s no good to anybody in your head”.
Now I’m not gonna go into what inspiration ‘really is’ or whatever—I’ll leave that to the, um, philosophers, abstract thinkers… more qualified minds than mine.
Besides, for me, it’s kind of a personal thing—I mean after all, if creating art is like having children, there’s a very private (or should be private anyway lol) thing involved in that, isn’t there? And one might equate inspiration with that. And besides again, this is getting rather long, eheheh.
But allow me to wrap these somewhat incoherent ramblings up with something I’ve written about elsewhere in my writer-slash-‘real job’ persona: On our first day proper at art school in uni, the dude-in-charge told us in no uncertain terms (but not exactly in these words) that ‘you are going to WORK, whether you’re inspired or not.’
And again, while it hadn’t elicited the collective gasp that might’ve resonated around the room, from me, it still had, at the time, impressed, or rather, re-impressed something on me which I’d already known a long time.
Because there will be days when you’ll HAVE to work regardless of how you feel. Because art isn’t just about feelings, you know. Art is actually quite cerebral. As I’ve said elsewhere on the jillablog, It’s a mind game. There’s a lot more rational thought and structure involved in art than the romantics might have you believe. It’s not just quote-unquote inspiration.
And if I may quote a certain ‘man in black’, ‘Anyone who says differently is selling something.’ If you’re wondering what that something could be, feel free to ask me.
I don't purport to know everything. Yet if the little I do know can be of any help, you are more than welcome to it.