Artistic Voice Part 2: Practice

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?


9 Responses to Artistic Voice Part 2: Practice

  1. onipar says:

    Very cool article. You hit on some important ideas that I often think about. I also like to check out the old stuff I write. Sometimes I even try to rewrite the stories and re-sub them…that is if they weren’t “cringe-worthy.”

  2. suburbanlife says:

    I have had a journaling and sketching habit since a fairly young age. I find in looking at what I drew and wrote at earlier times, that tendencies, interests and expressive concerns manifested themselves early and have built up gradually to reveal my own peculiar and idiosyncratic voice and vision. A great amount of what I have written and drawn is dreck, however there is a valuable kernel that requires periodic re-examination and rumination. i think of making art as similar to the way pearls are made, by a process of long-time accretion of sediment, and daily examining the sediment, layering it is what is so important. This process is very slow, but rewarding in the long run.

  3. JLB says:

    Oni, I love finding those little sparkles hidden in the archives – I also enjoy reworking things from time to time… especially when it’s something that I just wasn’t *ready* to write when I first cooked up the idea.

    SuburbanLife, welcome! Isn’t it amazing how far back we can see those early trends forming in our work? I like how you describe those “kernels” we revisit – like you, I find some of those to be the most rewarding to rework.

  4. Anita Marie says:

    I’ve recently branced out into writing things other then my macabre tales- not because I’m going to change what I write, but I want to dance with my entire body and not just my legs.

    So every day I sit down and do journal work, I do writing challanges, I read what other writers are doing and then I start my stories.

    It sounds like a lot of work and maybe it seems pointless, but for me, each word brings me closer to being a better writer.

    So it’s worth it.

  5. JLB says:

    Anita Marie, I also like to diversify – even beyond challenging myself as a writer, extending myself beyond what’s comfortable and trying to learn something new inevitably helps my writing grow.

    So, are your “writing challenges” self-assigned, or part of other writing groups, or a little of both? Perhaps I should start posting some regular “challenges” and brain teasers at Brainripples? 😉

  6. Anita Marie says:

    The Challanges are coming from a few places…the Soul Food Cafe…your site or I’ll just pull one out a Creative Writing book. I’ve even turned your Monday Muse Pictures into writing challanges…it’s simple I just write what I see.

    I think it would be a great idea to toss some challanges and brain teasers out there Jade. Then people could give a taste of what they’ve done here and provide a link to the finished project.

    That way you’re comment section doesn’t get over loaded.

    So sure…I’d stop by to play!

  7. islandlights says:

    Jade – hello! Just discovered your sites – actually by way of searching for a ‘pumpkin pie from scratch’ recipe. Looks like it truly will be nourishing more than my body-
    a lapsed artist, and a wannabe writer – deep in an ongoing love affair with the boreal forest; now living by the sea. Will be tuning in here often –
    Thank you for what you are doing

  8. JLB says:

    Hello Sheila, and welcome! I’m pleased that you’re enjoying Brainripples, feel welcome to stop by any time.

    Best wishes,

  9. Judy says:

    This is a very interesting article. I have been drawing most of my life and have been painting for 13 years. I never really knew what drove me to create, but I’ve always known that I’m not truly happy unless I’m creating. I just recently started wondering why I feel so strongly the need to create. I haven’t yet found the answer(s), but am still working on it. All I know is that I must listen to the voices in my head.

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