Practice, Nonsense

“I hate when they call it creative ‘practice’,” someone said to me other day. “We’re not attorneys and we’re not just monkeying around.”

I nodded. Sometimes I nod to indicate that I am, in fact, listening. That can be meaningful, if you know me well enough to have seen me tune-out mid-sentence, but it can also mislead people into thinking that I agree when I do not. I began to wonder about the word ‘practice’ and the phrase ‘creative practice’ in particular. I stopped nodding.

I am newly appointed ‘gallery manager’ at a contemporary art gallery.  I began in early September, on its fourth day of public operation, and it is the first full-time position I’ve held that involves a regular paycheck and tax forms. So the notion of ‘creative practice’ and what it might mean to me personally has grown like a tumor on my consciousness over the last six weeks.

‘Practice’ does not bear a negative connotation, as far as I know.

I haven’t been producing much or working in my studio (more accurately described as the corner of the desk where I can leave copper shavings without sullying my partner’s pristine inks and papers). I’ve been working, establishing a rhythm and setting up calendar reminders for my job. I’ve been living 40+ hours a week in a beautiful white box, surrounded by the manifested ideas of others. I love my job.

I haven’t been ‘practicing’ anything and my need for it is going to reach critical mass soon.

I did make a small, experimental edition for an annual print exchange hosted by Rainbow Ross. I listened to Raidolab and made relief ink from gouache and honey. It smelled odd and dried to the velvety matte finish I wanted.

Anyway. Creative practice: to me it seems appropriate, the phrase. The final work that winds up in a gallery (if one is lucky) or on a collector’s wall (if one is luckier still) is often the tangible result of much scratching around, working out, seeking, destroying, rebuilding, and thinking. Are all of those unshared, unseen moments and movements something as prosaic as ‘practice’? Well. Yes, I think so.

Putting down a mark is a banal gesture (or pushing into a daub of clay, chunking off a piece of granite, or manipulating a pixel, etc. etc.). An artist is made not by a single gesture but by a multitude; one must put in the time to practice, to doodle, to experiment, fail and learn. Most of that mark-making stuff can be learned by nearly anyone with the will to dedicate time and effort (that is an unpopular opinion, I know). The artist is one who dedicates, one who practices. Even if someone has an unusual degree of innate ability, it’s meaningless without practice.

I must redefine a work-life balance, to carve my practice into the structure of my days. It is, in some ways, the hardest part. My excuses are good: new job, looking for a new apartment, waiting to find out if I’ll have grant money to fund this project that’s simmering in my back of my brain. But they are not not good enough.

Even if my life feels distractingly full, I must practice in small ways, so that I am ready when I am finally willing to admit that life is made of distractions and the only thing standing in my way is myself.


2 thoughts on “Practice, Nonsense

  1. It IS about practice…….all the thoughts, all the proofs, all the various ink combinations. ( I just put a three plate colored etching in a show last week… was still smudgable as I put it in the mat.) That stuff is practice. I would say that ninety per cent of what I did was practice and ten per cent was actually pulling the final few prints. When it comes to printmaking, I think the term “practice” is dead on. Thanks for reminding me….love your posts!

  2. Heather I found myself nodding to your words, (because I was agreeing!)

    My practice consists of finding the “spaces” of time where I can fit in my need to create. If I have 1/2 an hour between finishing paid work and collecting my child from school, I sit down and ‘practice’. Or I may have a space of a whole morning to create, and ‘practice’. The practice is a constant in an otherwise chaotic life.

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