Monday, February 11, 2013

In Defense of the Disciplined Artist

A forthright friend recently commented, “How strange that you are an artist, and yet you are so rigid with your time. So structured. Where’s the passion?”

To which I wish I had replied: “Talent and passion don’t just transform themselves into books and paintings. That takes discipline. And one person’s passion can look a whole lot different than someone else’s.”

After my undelivered comeback, I continued to think about the misconception of artists as excitable partiers who throw together masterpieces in between ongoing bouts of binge drinking and orgies.

True, some of the most prolific artists in history were at least a little bit zany, but they were productive; they showed up, they worked, they finished their work. The evidence of their discipline is found on library shelves, theater stages, and museum walls.

Discipline is the artist’s friend. It is the ability to tell your time and talents where to go . . . and to follow your own instructions.

To those of you who build a structure to house your passions, your creativity applauds you. It has a safe and reliable place to come home to daily.

Sure, the best ideas often happen while outside of that structure—walking in the woods, staring at a bowl of oranges, standing in line at the post office. But my idea for a poem or a painting will only become a poem or painting if I steward that idea with discipline.

And as for passion, it looks different for everyone. It’s not necessarily loud. It won’t always set off the smoke alarm or leave stains on the furniture. It doesn’t have to get kicked out of movie theaters or small countries to exist. Passion can be blooming in the quietest person in the room, the one with a revelation she’s trying to find a way to share with the world.

I took the picture of my alarm clock when it rang this morning . . . very early. I don’t always like that thing. I don’t always listen to it. But that little face is a foundational part of my creativity structure. I wish my productivity peaked late in the evening like it does for fellow artists I know. Mine doesn’t.  So I honor my version; I wake up my talents and passions, sleepy as they are, and we all sip our coffee and get on with the business of creating.

That creation time is never rigid. It is deep and wild. Mystical and mysterious. Full of a richness that I’d only know if I committed to entering it.

Yes, passion can look like puffy eyes lit by a laptop screen at 5:30 in the morning. Really.