The 4 Disciplines Every Artist Needs to Master

Making art is hard. Creative expression is fun and rewarding in itself, but if you want to do anything with it you have to have discipline and work at it even when it becomes difficult. I’ve found 4 disciplines that every artist needs to cultivate in order to do better work.

Let’s start at the end.

4. Knowing when to step away without giving up

With every painting I make, I reach a certain point where I hate it. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever painted and I think I’m an utter failure.

It’s usually before something clicks and it starts coming together. Now, I have tricks to get past this stage sooner or more quickly. (Usually it has to do with getting lights and darks in earlier.)

But the point is we all face this. Seth Godin has a book about this, called The Dip. The idea is that every worthy endeavor has a point where there is a decrease in drive and excitement and an increase in frustration. And it is usually right before the project really takes off. I haven’t read this book yet but it’s been on my list for a long time. (I don’t even have a copy. I need to get one!)

When this happens in the studio, this is when you should take a 20 minute break and go for a walk. This does a lot to clear your head.

As for your business, this is when you just don’t give up. Change sales tactics, maybe. Read Seth Godin.

3. Setting goals that are just beyond your reach

You have to be realistic with your goals. But you have to stretch just a little bit. And sometimes you have to look for ways to set yourself up to succeed at those goals.

For example, a friend of mine wanted to complete 200 paintings last year. In October she only had 100 paintings finished. She didn’t think there was any way she’d make her goal. However, in November, she tried the Art Every Day Month challenge. She changed her goal from 200 paintings to 200 pieces of art, and accepted small sketches as part of her goal. This pushed her past the 200-piece limit.

So put your goals just beyond your reach so you have to stretch, but allow for some flexibility in those goals.

2. Staying open to change

Making art requires a certain amount of openness. You have to understand and embrace flux, the changing nature of art. Flux comes from the Latin word for flow. So embrace the changing, flowing nature of art, your environment, your inputs, your outputs.

Art is fundamentally transformational: it changes base materials from something inert to something that changes the person who experiences it. You turn stone into a sculpture. A canvas into a painting that moves people.

Embrace this transformation and be open to possibilities. Because without change and transformation, there would be no art.

1. Showing up

The War of Art. If you want to make art, you have to show up regularly. The muse won’t come to you until you’re predictable about it, and art-making is part of your routine.

My friend Jeff Goins likes to talk about how before he got serious about writing, every third Saturday he would sit on the porch with his laptop, wait for the wind would blow just right, and then write.

After doing this for a few months he had about a hundred pages of nothing. He realized you have to show up daily and do the work. So he did just that and after several years of hard work he’s a New York Times best-selling author.

You have to show up, put in the hard work, put in a lot of effort. Consistently making a lateral drift is not a long-term strategy for producing good work. You have to put in what’s called sweat equity. It’s not easy. But it’s worth it.

It’s like what Chuck Close said:

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just get to work.” — Chuck Close
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So what kind of disciplines have you had to cultivate for your art practice?

I’d love to know. Shoot me an email, or go on Twitter and use the hashtag #artistdisciplines so we can continue the conversation there.

Or if you’d like, just leave a comment here on the blog.