The Paradox of Creativity & Discipline

What is the relationship, if any between creativity and discipline?

Most people think of discipline to be the antipode of creativity. They think that discipline is a constraint and therefore restricts the expression of oneself freely and fully. However, this thinking rests on a fundamental error in understanding creativity.

Creativity (and therefore art itself) is not the ability to express whatever one wants in whatever manner one sees fit. If this is the case, then the randomness of a child’s play can be considered art. Or the ramblings of a mentally insane person could also be termed as creative. If we are to define art as a creative endeavor, then there are certain things that define art and other things that simply cannot be considered art. Creativity is not randomness.

Creativity goes hand-in-hand with mastery. Mastery of art, a science, or any discipline for that matter. And mastery involves rigor and discipline. It takes time, effort, and consistent practice to develop mastery in any chosen field. This foundation of patient practice sets up the base for an artist to express creativity. Creativity is always bound. That is to say, discipline helps bind oneself to one thing. And the creative process is the expression of oneself through those limits. A master comes close to playing around with the rules and perhaps even transgresses them once in a while. This exploration of the rules is what helps unleash creativity. Rules are essential to the creative process.

Think of it this way. Let’s say two excellent chess players face off each other. But what if we eliminate all rules in the game. All moves are possible. Would there even be a contest? Would the abilities of either player be tested? No. The limitations of the game (i.e. the rules) are what make the game challenging. And mastery is expressed in overcoming these limitations. This helps express one’s mastery of the game.

Creativity needs discipline. And mastery is required to fully imbibe the rules of the art. Art, which is based on randomness cannot be considered art for this sole reason. It is random, and not creative. It lacks any rules. And therefore all combinations are possible. There is no discipline, no mastery required. Any whim of the mind can be expressed in any way possible. This sort of “modern art” is actually a channel for the expression of personal insanity.

This is why true art – like the symphonies of Beethoven or the Brandenburg Concertos of Bach endure. It involves a lot of hard work to make this sort of art. This is why Michelangelo’s David endures. This is why Ustad Zakir Hussain’s tabla performances are stupendous. True art is an expression of disciplined mastery.

When art is expressed from this space of mastery, it becomes transcendental. It transcends the limitations of being human. It seems other worldly. And we mortals connect with such ‘other worldly’ expressions. It touches the impersonal attribute within us and brings us so much joy, peace, and beauty. Art essentially collapses the individuality, connects us with the transcendental, and bestows a joy-peace to us. This is the purpose of art.

Art, therefore cannot be aimed at securing accolades and awards. When a true master does what s(he) does best and simply communicates oneself through the artistic endeavor, then they simply flow with that expression. Ask any artist or a sportsman and they will testify to this transcendental aspect of the creative process. The artist disappears for that brief moment and only the process of creating remains. It is impersonal and transcendental. The reward for the artist is the creative process itself and not any external accolades.

This is why we must all learn some art. It may be science, it may be music, painting, it may be cooking or baking. The process of constantly learning to improve oneself in any chosen field is the foundation for mastery. This helps us connect and unleash creative powers within us. Then our lives become expressions of this creativity, which takes us by surprise. This makes us live in wonder, gratitude, and joy.

A high-altitude prairie with the rocky mountains in the backdrop. Green Mountain. Colorado. May 2022

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