One of the motivations of doing this blog is to talk plainly and honestly about the challenges and successes of the making of art in all forms including writing, theater and all conceivable forms of expression. My experience has been in the visual arts but these blog articles apply in my mind to all mediums. I know that over the years I wished I knew of others who were candid and available to speak about their dilemmas and how they dealt with them. The best I came up with were others who lived parallel lives to what I was driven to do, which was to make art. We created a network of friends who shared with each other whatever we could whenever it was needed.
Many times we would call each other up [pre-texting days] and lay out our dire situation only to get, ‘whoa, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that one!’. But being able to get it out and talk about it helped even if we were left with figuring it out on our own. My good friends never bullshit me but those less connected might try to put on the artist aloofness thing which always turned my stomach. I have always been more interested in real people and real talk about what we as artists and people actually contend with in life.
With that in mind these articles reflect my attempt to front run what most will come face to face with if you are seriously pursuing an art life. These things will be unavoidable and these discussions will be applicable at some point in your path and my hope is that the whole of this blog will become a reference for you as my friends were for me when I needed them.
So I have had on my mind the idea of deliberate practice and how the visual arts in general ignores the high importance of this activity. I have many friends in other disciplines such as music, theater, writing and one of the enduring principles of what they do is their practice time. When I say practice time I really mean that for them practice time is where they spend most of their focus. I rarely know of any visual artist who feels the same about this. Most visual artists feel the ‘pressure’ of arriving at a finished piece every time they put work in. Some never even consider this idea of practice.
It won’t take much for me to convince you how important practice is for other creative disciplines. We KNOW that musicians must practice to get better and to ultimately perform with feeling and skill in public. An actor spends hours and hours with coaches and teachers to hone their craft and spend the majority of their time developing the ability to flawlessly perform on the stage to the level where we forget they are even acting.
This principle applies to every creative endeavor except the visual arts it seems. Practice implies experimentation. It implies failure. It implies becoming aware of insights that have been invisible to us. It is never intended for public consumption. It is done in the privacy of our committed time to get ‘better’ at what we do as artists; to get so good that the viewer forgets how much time and dedication it took to see the finished thing they are seeing. But this only happens when all of the preceding practice was done and the artist’s craft then becomes worthy to be seen. Has anyone considered making 10,000 marks on a piece of paper with pencil to fully understand the power of the mark and the unlimited possibilities? How about learning how to see beyond what the average person sees? This takes focus and time spent.
Craft is the first requirement whether you are a fine artist, a musician, actor or whatever. Craft comes from deliberate practice and no other way. Soul comes from knowing your craft intimately and connecting it seamlessly to your personality. It is impossible to get to soul in any other way than through craft and only soul endures. Craft does not. It takes humility and commitment to admit we need to practice and that this part of our art life is not intended to be seen by anyone but us. We are free to suck, to make mistakes, to screw it up big but in that freedom we learn, we grow and we learn our craft. Deliberate practice is liberating and enlightening. It transforms us into real artists from pseudo artists and unfortunately the world is full of them. Those are the dues that must be paid. Deliberate practice is the door into that excellence and soul that gives you the possibility of contributing to the heritage of all true artists.