Welcome back to the Artistic Voice series at Brainripples. Our discussion began in March 2007 when we considered a simple question: how do we develop our artistic voice? Be sure to read the Introduction and Artistic Voice Part 1: Listening.
Today I’d like to take a look at one of the more obvious components of artistic development: practice.
Artistic Voice Part 2: Practice
Most of us are familiar with the emphasis placed on the benefits of practice. On the first day of class, my T’ai Chi Ch’üan instructor explained “the first million tries don’t count,” (or something to that effect). In order to do something well, we usually have to do things a little bit wrong until we hone our skills and abilities. Whether it’s once a year or twice a day, regular creation helps develop artistic voice and improve the quality of our work.
Often we attempt to improve our art through practice, practice, practice: we place FOKBIC [Fingers On Keyboard Butt In Chair] while sketchbooks, voice recorders, and scribbled notecards jam our pockets and clutter our desks. In our spare time we seek out audiences at blogs, critique groups, open-mics, local band nights, coffee shop stages, and of course, through publication and presentation.
Publication is seen by some (but certainly not everyone) as a sort of ultimate artistic achievement. Many of us strive toward publication of our work for different reasons, and most of us have a different idea of what sort of venue we value. For some artists reviews by Oprah and The New York Times are tantamount to success, while for others the impermanence and intimacy of community art are fundamental to artistic creation.
Regardless of our individual ideas of success, prospects of publication and recognition are never guaranteed; the only thing we can ensure are the sketches, rough drafts, and trial runs that fill most of our creative days. So what is the value of practicing our art beyond the act itself? How does practice help us cultivate our artistic voice?
I believe that it is not just the act of practice itself, but also the relationship we have with our ongoing art which feeds our artistic voice.
Earlier this year, Angela at Life of a Mother Artist asked, “Are quick drawings and paintings artworks or just studies?” She muses on the value we place on the half-baked scribbles of “the masters,” and questions whether we can place equal value on the drafts of our contemporaries.
I would extend that question to our own work: what value do we find in our rough drafts and practice attempts?
From time to time I make room in my day to review old work. Some of it moves me, and some of it makes me cringe – but all of it provides a window into my artistic development. I can see the effects of early influences, track where experiments evolve into preferred styles, and watch as the focus of my work changes to suit my growing interests and abilities.
Drafts and practice attempts provide clues that reveal the answer to WHY we create (beyond simply being “compelled to do so”), which can help us cultivate our artistic voice. When we understand what sparks our need to create, our voice can gain clarity and strength through a sense of purpose.
How have your rough drafts and practice tries helped you to develop your artistic voice? Setting aside publication and recognition, what is it that connects you to your work and compels you to continue to create each day?