Right Effort for Artists.

This blog was inspired by a conversation I had the other day with an artist who complained bitterly about the difficulty of doing art, that all sorts of things got in the way.

Again from Wikipedia, re Right Effort: “The practitioner should … [persist] in giving rise to what would be good and useful to themselves and others in their thoughts, words, and deeds, without a thought for the difficulty or weariness involved.”

So, you’ve chosen the pursuit of Art for your Right Livelihood. Art doesn’t harm anyone and its usefulness is to inspire, inform and enlighten (in a spiritual and emotional manner). It helps you and me along the path. In my case, Right livelihood is painting pictures (and sometimes sculpting). When I was fifty-five years old I figured out how to paint in terms of Right Effort. Halleluiah!

I know a lot of painters, writers, musicians, potters, actors. A problem common to a lot of them, is the ease with which they can be distracted from, or interrupted by, or lack the energy to actually do the work necessary to produce works. According to the Eightfold Path: Right Effort, the only way to produce work is to ignore all the things that prevent you from doing the work and then just doing of it. Of course it helps a lot if you can figure out why you let yourself be distracted. Previous to the age of fifty-five I had too much self-doubt (the other side of the coin is too much ego). Now I know that my value or worth as a painter cannot really be determined by me or by any outside agency. All I know is that if I don’t do any painting there is definitely no worth to the paintings. And, the more I paint the more I might learn about painting.

In order to live in a monastery you have to give up your right to decide what you will do next. You hand the decision over to someone else. Once having made the blanket decision to subsume yourself in the monastic routine, you are forced by that decision to produce. You work at the job assigned to you. You get exhausted. You fall asleep late. You get up early. If you don’t follow the routine then there is not much reason to be there. This is not much different than doing a job of work for a company. You do the work someone else requires of you or you lose your job.

We can get pretty comfortable working at a job, but we have a hard time working at what we think is important to our self. Why are we able to do the work at a job but find it hard, or impossible, to engage the work attendant to our creativity? Why can’t we treat our creativity as if it were simply our job? Safe to say that the most productive and famous painters, dancers, musicians, potters did not wait around for inspiration or energy or time free from distractions and interruptions. They all made their particular creativity their work and proceeded to work at it as if it were work.

If you think that hard persistent effort makes creativity too much like grunt work, lacking in inspiration, I pray that one day you will find that everything in the day to day is inspirational, if you only have eyes to see. Inspiration is something you work at, that you prepare yourself for, that you find in the work itself. Enjoy the grunt work. Remain aware while doing it, awake to the possibility inherent in every moment. Exhaust yourself. Fall down. Pick yourself up. Get lost. Laugh. Refuse to let the idea of hard work fill you with doubt or self loathing. Waiting around for inspiration is merely another way to get distracted, to procrastinate. What can be more inspirational than the mystery of life itself? Engage with it, with work, right now, day after day, no matter if the energy required seems unattainable. Just start. The path is endless. No time to waste.

I guess this post is because I wished I could have said these things to the artist who complained the other day. But I couldn’t do so because that particular artist wouldn’t have been able to hear, being too deep into the pain. All I could do was listen and say that I heard.

the above image can be seen on my website.