Discipline is not a popular word these days. It carries with it a sense of obligation and duty connected with institutions and punishment and unless that is a bit kinky, not really much fun at all.
The word comes from disciple, one who follows to learn and when used this way it seems to make more sense to us artists. If the opposite of discipline is freedom and we were to approach each act of art with complete freedom we might be all over the place. Some structure or constraint is used to direct our efforts, we may be following ideas which were given to us when we learnt to draw or paint or following an inner feeling or intuition or just following the rules of our chosen medium. Whether we can articulate it or not there will be a discipline we adhere to, even if that is to have no rules at all, the hardest one.
The discipline of an organised palette, of cleaning brushes, of drawing each day or of attending to our social media (yuk!) can all be electively ignored without inevitable disaster but when we work, that discipline needs to be in place even if it is unconscious. Moving towards our sense of rightness, balance or beauty or conversely pursuing the startling, jarring and uncomfortable are all movements and movement is good, stasis is not the artists’ friend.
Working with an explicit discipline gives us something to follow and also to question, to fight against and push the boundaries, it’s always good to see what can be achieved with a severely limited palette or by drawing with the non dominant hand, things emerge that were previously unseen.
The paradox is that with a firm discipline in place we seem to have greater freedom. Coherent light, as found in a laser beam, is just the same light that bounces around in a million ways but it is organised so that all of the light waves are of the same frequency and going in the same direction. No more energy needs to be used than in dispersed light but it is much more effective in very specific ways. When we work, there is always the possibility of our creativity constantly engaging with everything that arises, what of this? and what of that? The discipline we impose means that we can expend all of our energy within the defined parameters, which feels like freedom.