The Importance of Clear Definitions

The act of definition is where everything begins — how you define things determines everything else. Everything that follows an initial definition is dependent upon that first definition. Take philosophy, for example: the fundamental question (and subsequent definition) of “What is good?” is the foundation of philosophy. Furthermore, your answer or definition of that very question establishes a framework for your own philosophy, and gives great insight into your own psychology (what makes you tick).

Clear definitions are important no matter what your discipline is. Whether you’re a physicist, a financier, or a construction worker — it is imperative to have clearly defined standards that ensure that everyone is on the same page. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a thousand people or just outlining something for yourself. When things are well-defined, goals and actions are clear to everyone involved.

I think everyone agrees that clear definitions are important in communicating with other people. But what about communicating with yourself? Elsewhere, I’ve talked about how important it is to write down your goals, to plan things out. Defining your goals, tasks, dreams, and standards keeps you on track. It gives you a road map. It’s useful for people like me who are easily distracted by the path of least resistance.

Build a framework

So as an artist, what sort of things should you define? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • What is art?
    What is my definition of art? What’s my definition of my art?
  • What makes a piece of art good?
    It all boils down to Plato’s original question.
  • When is a piece finished?
    At what point do I generally quit working on a piece and declare it finished?
  • Do I want to sell my art?
  • How much money should I ask for when selling a piece?
    What will cover expenses, time, and profit?
  • What are my materials?
    Will I limit myself to one particular medium or tool or technique, or will I experiment with a variety of materials?
  • What is the scope of my market?
    Should my aim be broader or narrower? More local or national, or international?
  • What are my career goals as an artist?
    What does success look like to me?

Of course, a lot of these are answered along the way, but keep in mind that the clearer these things become, the better you’re able to set goals and meet them. Try to steer clear of jargon, but be as concrete and concise as you can. If you can explain it to a child or someone who doesn’t know anything about art, you’ve done your job. And remember to be flexible in your definitions, as they will surely change over time. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to evaluate these definitions at least once a year as part of a personal annual review, where you get the 30,000-foot perspective of things.

What are your definitions?

So here’s your homework: Set aside some disruption-free time to sit down and define these things. It may take a day or two to think everything through. Define whatever else you feel needs defining. You may have a successful career and life without defining these things, but you’re likely to do things haphazardly and sloppily, wasting time pursuing dead ends. Just remember: creating definition creates clarity and focus, and clarity and focus create tangible results.