Christianity·Featured·Writing

Art House Dallas and The Disciplined Life

5 minute read

“There is no such thing, we discovered, as disciplining one corner of a life. There are only disciplined or undisciplined lives.”
– Carey Wallace, On Discipline

I attended my first Art House Local event last night, a quarterly meeting of creative Christians birthed out of Art House America. Dotting the DFW landscape, multiple groups met to discuss Carey Wallace‘s short article On Discipline (PDF).

As I tweeted the night before, it’s an incisive read, like a doctor who wounds you for your own good.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/14801363 width=”620″] While our group only had myself, another first-timer, and the host in attendance, conversation freely flowed as we shared our concerns, our fears, and our commonalities as Christians and artists pursuing “creative community for the common good.” In addition to extolling the benefits of this unique group (which is reminiscent of the type of community surrounding the STORY Conference), I’d like to share a few of my answers to the questions we were asked. I’d love for you to share your own answers to these questions as well.

1. What habits helped when you were creatively stuck?

Remembering that certain pieces I’ve written before have worked, i.e., they’ve resonated with people. Not everything I write will be amazing (not even close), but the inverse is also true: Not everything I write will be terrible. I can press into the work by recalling how God’s chosen to use certain articles to encourage people, or to help me get a job.

2. What are the strong habits that make strong work?

  • Acknowledgement that art requires sacrifices in time, money, relationships, etc. Our host made the point that sometimes that sacrifice means even laying down good work so that you can do great work.
  • Dedication to getting, and keeping, your butt in the seat to get the work done. The other attendee goes into her studio every day of the week and paints for three hours each day. If only I had that kind of dedication!
  • Confidence in yourself, i.e. confidence in God’s lead in your life. Another challenging part of On Disciple related that your spiritual disciplines and your creative disciplines are synonymous. You can’t be either/or. You have to be both/and. Read the opening quote of this post again.
  • Abstinence from even coming close to your spiritual pitfalls.

3. What artists do you know and what are their habits?

Of the few that I know personally (who are mostly musicians), it’s the practice time out of the spotlight that matters. If you’re an artist, whether that’s a painter, musician, singer, writer, sculptor, or graphic designer, what are your habits that allow you to get work done?

4. What do you make of the correlation between spiritual practices and artistic practices?

I wouldn’t have put those two together before reading the words Wallace wrote, but it’s blindingly and judgingly apparent now. How do I get disciplined? Can I tell myself to just do it? Should I punish myself if I don’t dedicate specific amounts of time per day to writing and relating to God? Do I have to do one before the other comes along? Does it start with the willingness to start? Personally, I haven’t been showing up for either of these practices, so it’s little wonder that I’m still riding the proverbial bench.

5. Does artistic success come down to inspiration or discipline?

Yes.

Maybe it’s circular. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about the Muse, and how she may not visit often, but when she does, she sure better see your butt in the chair, or your arm in the air painting, or your mouth singing. If she doesn’t see you putting in the hours, she’s not going to grace you with her presence. She flees from the lazy. That’s why the “artists” waiting for inspiration might eke out one phenomenal piece in their whole life, but they likely won’t become a professional artist who gets paid to do what they love.

So, choose a question and let me know your thoughts. Also, if you attended the same Art House Local event last night and might have written something about it, leave the post URL in the comments. I’d be interested to read it.

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6 Replies

  1. Blake,

     

    I’m glad to read some reflections from a fellow Art House
    Local-attendee! The Dallas discussion focused, among other things, on the
    spiritual aspect of discipline. As Wallace said, “The actions of discipline are
    simple, but the barriers to discipline are spiritual.” Her solution, simply
    put, is to draw closer to God.

     

    We also broached the subject of artistic motivation as it
    relates to discipline. Since Thursday night I’ve gone back and forth on the
    issue. I keep wanting there to be some grand reason why we, as creatives and
    followers of Christ, are obligated to harness our gifts and abilities to
    further the Kingdom. That would make it so much easier to instill discipline
    (or get our bottoms in the seat). But the reality is we need God, He does not
    need us. His plans will come to fruition whether or not we use what He’s given
    us. It is not a hole in His great plan that we leave behind when we fail to
    realize our potential; rather it is a hole in ourselves. His plan is fulfilled,
    only we are not.

     

    So artist Christians do have an opportunity to be a part of
    something larger than themselves (Wallace names it an “honor”), but
    it is simply that, an opportunity. Should we choose to pass, then that chance goes
    to the next person in line. We miss out on “the dazzling beauty and variety of
    things God wants to speak into this world.” Those faithful with a few things
    will be put in charge of many.

     

    What do you think about motivation and the artist Christian?

     

    So glad you took the time to share, and glad you could make it!

    Joshua

  2. Thanks for the comment Joshua. 

    If I understand your question correctly, I’d say that motivation for a Christian artist stems from two intertwined realities—that we’re made to worship and creating art is an act of worship. We work because we love the work, but we also work because we love the God who created us to do the work. 

    Learning to be motivated by that “still, small voice,” instead of the loud, cacophonous voice of public acceptance, is a lifelong endeavor toward creating for your own sake. Then, like you said, God will use it as he sees fit.

  3. blake, 
     just read through this – we’re hosting an AHL in fort worth and felt much of the same – good words..and Pressfield’s book is a great read – one of my favorites this past year. keep the thoughts coming

    mark

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