One of the fun things about writing these letters is learning the various methodologies artists use. It seems some of us are of the “let-it-flow” school, dreamy, laid back and even lackadaisical about our work. Others think self-management and discipline are right up there with the cardinal virtues. Further, I’ve always been curious about the dual nature of many artists — the combo of manager and worker under one roof.
Did you ever notice how some employees don’t like their bosses? Did you ever stop to think the reason you’re an artist may be because you never did like working for one? Apparently, many of us are drawn to art because we don’t like being told what to do. And then again, some of us have trouble telling ourselves what to do.
Studies have shown lazy folks can become top managers. Getting others to do their dirty work in early life led them to later positions in management. On the other hand, working stiffs can grow comfortable with the worker mentality. Here are a few ideas:
Understanding and taking advantage of our lazy moments may be a significant path to creative success. Feet up in a hammock, a cool one at the side, imagination flies. This can also be a time when dates are penciled in and outrageous notes are made. Laziness breeds the plans and strategies for less lazy times.
Strategy is the heartbeat of management. As well as long and short term goals, both managers and self-managers need to project the idea of discovery. The opening up of opportunities for the worker is management’s job one. It’s become a motivational truism that top managers encourage innovation and creativity. When I snoop into the lives of artists I admire, I generally find people who at one time or another have taken charge of themselves and given themselves some sort of permission to act on their dreams. It comes as a shock to many to find discipline is key to creative freedom. In the words of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, “Command like a king, work like a slave, create like a god.”
PS: “Your work is to discover your work – and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” (Buddha)
Esoterica: Florida painter Eleanor Blair says, “One of the many blessings of being an artist is that you don’t have to wait for someone to hire you before you can work.” Fact is, self-employed persons need to learn to be their own bosses. Brian Tracy in The Power of Discipline writes, “Your ability to discipline yourself to set clear goals, and then to work toward them everyday, will do more to guarantee your success than any other single factor.”
by Jack Winter, UK
Those of us who make our living by writing know the value of steady discipline. Producing 1000 publishable words a day is key to a decent career. For many of us this happens in the morning and takes as long as it needs. Some days things happen faster than others. The afternoon is reserved for the lazy business you were talking about, but they are not idle hours by any means. No matter what other activities may engage you, the subconscious is still grinding away. This is the nature of creativity. You need both.
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Meant to be an artist
by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA
For 20 years I worked for others in non art-related jobs and hated it with every fiber of my being. I loved the people I worked with. I loved the clientele. But I dreaded every day at the job du jour. I challenged every decision made by a superior and quit every job with a flourish and an “I’ll show you” attitude. What I learned from this, albeit rather slowly, was that I knew somewhere in my being that I was meant to be a self-employed artist and teacher, and the only person I had to convince of that was myself. The only thing standing in my way was fear of success and guilt for possibly having a job I loved… who has THAT?! Ten years ago I made the leap to self-employment after much soul- searching and self-inflicted angst, and I do not look back. Was it easy? No. Were there days of questioning what I had done? Yes. Is it a sacrifice? Definitely. Was it the best thing I ever did? Absolutely! As an artist you must be a manager, a secretary, a promoter, a business person, a critic, and most of all, a creator and a dreamer. To be a creator and a dreamer, one must have “down-time.” This is the life-blood of the creative mind.
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Working harder for others
by Diana Anderson, Kent City, MI, USA
I have been on both sides of the fence, and admittedly I seem to work harder for others than myself. I have a difficult time allowing myself the luxury of relaxing. With a large house, an Autistic son and numerous other issues to deal with, maybe I feel the need to prove something to myself , as I am disabled due to a car accident. I have owned and operated two businesses, my husband was a professional athlete as well as having another job, my son needed home schooling and somewhere along the line I lost my own time to do what I love to do, paint. However when I was working for someone else I had to perform and so, it wasn’t for me.
Could be guilt, not wanting to be selfish. Could be that I blame myself for being disabled. Could be that I am afraid to fail because I have been so successful in the past. Who knows the real reason for not having the time to feed my needs. All that I do know is that I must do what I must to be satisfied with myself ! If this means revamping my home and family issues then so be it! Until I read your letter I certainly never saw what I was doing to myself and in the end I believe that the other issues at hand will alter as well. Possibly it will take a bit of time but I believe it will happen. It is a matter of respect for my family as well as myself.
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Freedom and discipline
by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA
Driven by one and resisting the other. Those who have experienced this know the combination can be a recipe for angst and frustration. Add current society’s obsession with linear thinking/training as the ‘right’ path to success, confusion and self-doubt enter into the mix. The first time I experienced what I would call a mature attitude about this dilemma was the turning point, not only in my professional life, but in every corner where it was hiding. I’m a team player and I love collaboration. I work extremely well on my own. I’m a leader in many parts of my life. I am a good parent. Those are just some of the benefits that come from applying discipline in my days. The first change that had to happen was my definition of ‘discipline.’ Once I took the punitive quality out of it and saw it for what it really is — an excellent tool for focus — I was on my way! I began by substituting the word FOCUS for the word discipline. It opened up all sorts of possibilities: keeping myself physically fit through the focus of exercise, starting and completing large projects through the focus of perseverance, discerning what feeds my spirit and focusing myself in both my work and my play. It wasn’t long before they became one. Discipline/Focus is a joyful process and for a person who requires absolute freedom — will do anything in the world to have it — it is the key that unlocks the door!
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Life lessons in self-management
by Cathy Harville, Gambrills, MD, USA
I spent many years as a manager for a large company, including having to manage myself when my boss was preoccupied with other things. Those experiences helped me to learn to do the tasks that I do best, and leave the rest to the folks who reported to me. In making art, we have to do it all — shop, keep records, pay taxes, update websites, advertise, and make art — paint, frame, fix, and hang. I have embraced being the manager of myself. After all, who knows me better? I do solicit lots of consultations from willing artists, and it is nice to have such a collegial atmosphere to keep me going. I find that while I am framing, or cleaning, or working on advertising, my subconscious works on the next painting; or figures out what to change on a piece on my easel. And I have also found that when I get lazy — not wanting to organize my studio, for example — I set a small goal, with painting as a reward. Otherwise, my husband would have no clean underwear! Sometimes I wish I had an agent. But if I did, I would never have learned as much as I have. And, I would miss out on so many life lessons.
by Xiang Luk Lee, China
Discipline is into our nature and we seem able to be steady at hard task. Over and over. There is good life in learning many years academic training for not easy for many to hold the ground. When have accomplished this training after much sufferings and debt for school, there is nothing but to be discipline. As a young man in China not lazy I hope to be great and happy one day that is my only dream.
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Plan your work, work your plan
by Sara Genn, Santorini, Greece
Scheduling can be a powerful antidote for arty self-esteem dips… but it muscles out strategic dreamtime. Maybe entitlement to “lazy periods” is the artist’s General’s star. Earning it is both a psychiatric exercise and a matter of artistic maturity. Laziness, unfortunately, is a pejorative term, and there’s also that expression “don’t work hard, work smart” which can be distasteful — we’d all like to see ourselves as the hardest of workers. Further, strategy can be poo poo’d by dreamers, but it’s probably where it’s at… I follow the “plan your work, work your plan” and add to it “sandwich this planning and working between serious and committed dreaming.”
Putting miles on the brush
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA
I have found that unless I push myself to the easel nothing will get done. Once there, seated with the palette at one side and brushes in hand, I dive into the work. For myself the only way to put those miles on the brush is discipline. This may not sound romantic but as it was pointed out by Twyla Tharp one has to make creativity a habit. Yesterday I took a 12 x 16 painting from a few years back. It was obvious that the painting did not work. Except for two plein air excursions with paint and one or two to sketch, the past few months have seen sporadic activity in the studio. Picking up that paintbrush and working over that painting was like a waterfall flowing again after a drought. The end result was a fairly good painting. It is not easy but eliminating the roadblocks that we put in our way is one of the main keys to painting. I read of artists who put in a day’s work in the studio -how I envy them! I have been in that hammock too many times. My immediate goal is to get out of the way and put in that full day. I will, though have to move some boulders that I placed on the path to my easel.
Flirtations with madness
by Olinda Everett, Matlock, Derbyshire, UK
Planning ahead to follow a thread is easily done; working to a schedule, is normal. But selecting and prioritizing is a problem. My work is about feeling and emotion and I use clay and glazes. To drive towards an expression of myself that goes beyond words, I need to press an idea from all sides and that means usually working on several types of form at the same time. Having made my plans and allowed for this, I then find that halfway through a piece, a new idea takes hold and off I go, completely off track. As a boss, I would have fired me long ago for undisciplined conduct. I find, though, that these flirtations with madness produce my most creative and meaningful work.
by Catherine Stock, France
I refer to my non-productive periods as fallow times. I think they are essential. One reason I left New York to live in the French countryside is to give myself more time to think and be truly creative. I have established a life-drawing evening every Monday for local artists in my studio, and some of my best work, I think, are the light quick sketches I make during the warm-up two minute poses. But I know that their freshness and minimalism is partly a result of long hours spent on illustration assignments.
Roots of discipline
by Sheila Norgate, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada
I was thrilled to learn that the word ‘discipline’ is connected in its origins, to the word ‘disciple.’ Ever since I found that out, I have felt so much better about the concept of discipline since now I see it being less about enforcement and regimentation, and more about becoming a disciple to myself, my muse, my artistic practice.
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Parliament Hill, Ottawa
oil painting, 18 x 24 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Susan von Ammon of Dunnellon, Florida, USA, who wrote, “You mentioned Brian Tracy’s book entitled The Power of Discipline. I am very interested in reading this book but was unable to find it under the title or under his name. Can you tell me if this is a new publication?”
And also Janet Morgan of Brooklyn, NY, USA, who wrote, “For a delightful read, take a look at How to be Idle, the Loafers Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson — lots of good thoughts to chew on, like the benefits of staying in bed.”
And also Martha Faires of Charlotte, NC, USA, who wrote, “One of the best resources out there to help artists see the little steps to the big goal of artistic success is Alyson Stanfield’s book I’d Rather Be in the Studio. Your post is another reminder that I need to get my nose back in Alyson’s book and start applying her words of advice day by day.”
And also Ann Wheatcroft of Victoria, BC, Canada who wrote, “I have a problem with authority and have always disliked management on principle. Yet I am a very good organizer and can get people motivated. I’m in love with painting and every process connected, including my morning pleasure of coffee, your letter, then off to my studio or painting group.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Managerial Mode…