I am absolutely certain that you will never find in over 500 posts on this blog that I’ve ever referred to my art-making as a practice. I just make art. I don’t have a practice.
Recently, a lot of people are referring to their art-making as a practice — even landscape painters — as if they are doctors practicing medicine, or lawyers practicing law. And part of the reason contemporary artists use practice — OK, the majority of the reason — is to implicitly elevate what they do to the highest level of professionalism, requiring the most education. The practices of doctors, lawyers, and performance artists working with feces [a sensationalist example, but my most famous instructor — Paul McCarthy — is known for his work with and about feces. “My interest and practice is art” — Paul McCarthy.].
I’m pretty sure that this kind of contemporary art speak stems from trying to discuss art that doesn’t have the usual characteristics of art, such as, say, Damien Hirst hiring people to create a full-blown work in his name [ex., his diamond-encrusted skull].
If you can’t say you spent countless hours in the studio drawing or painting, or if you weren’t outside for weeks looking for just the perfect photo taken in just the right place at just the right time, and you were just cooking up the next gimmick, well, then you were engaged in the most meaningful, and highest pursuit of your practice. The less practicing that’s involved or required in creating the art in question, the more likely one’s art career is a “practice”.
I’m sure there’s an element of overcompensating for a general perception that art is fun, or a hobby, and not a serious job, hence people adopt “practice” as a noun in order to indicate the level of dedication and study involved in their chosen pursuit.
Jeff Koons — the poster boy for not making his own art — speaks very seriously about his practice:
I am proud of everything I have achieved, but the same vocation that led to my practice now is asking me to stop. A religious epiphany that changed my life has revealed a necessary curve in the spiritual path that has guided me since the beginning of my career.~ Jeff Koons
Not just a practice, but a spiritual path, a vocation, and a career. I wonder what his religious epiphany was. My guess is we have another super-rich celebrity who has convinced himself that he’s attained enlightenment after reading Elkhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, or watching reruns of Super Soul Sunday with Oprah. If there is a spiritual dimension to Koons’s art — I mean practice — it probably exists in a parallel universe. In this one the spiritual element is utterly flat.
Even ordinary people will start off describing their art a little something like this, “In my practice … “. Just stop and imagine a rock musician speaking like that. Here’s what Jimmy Page would sound like, “In my practice I incorporate the violin bow into the guitar solo in order to create a fusion of Paganini-style classical violin virtuosity with heavy blues riffs in order to create a hybrid musical experience to give back to the community.” What pretentious knobbery!
Here are some examples:
- In my practice, art, technology, and science have always merged, focusing on expanding human perception.”
- Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical conception of the rhizome as well as scientific studies of complex systems became central concepts within my practice.
- My practice sits at the intersection of arts and culture, and advocates for race, cultural histories, and representation as important factors in Canadian arts and culture policies.
- My practice has extended to work with human remains held in pathology and anatomy museums. By combining both traditional and experimental drawing techniques…
- The process of layering is analogous to the prevalent theme in my art practice –– the revealing of new perspectives or unraveling our fixed reality.
- I have a studio-based practice. I have one assistant, who isn’t coming in at the moment.
- The artist, whose practice covers painting, sculpture, installation, video, sound and performance, has not actively produced work in this phase.
You get the idea. Every one of these statements can work just as well without the word practice in it. So, for example, instead of saying, “In my practice, art, technology, and science have always merged” the artist could have just said, “In my art, technology and science have always merged.” Or, better yet, and likely much more accurate, “I incorporate elements of science and technology in my art.”
Here’s the opening paragraph of my about page, “I combine traditional drawing/painting techniques with computer software (including photo-editing and collage techniques…) to revitalize the long tradition of painting into the digital age.” I think that could stand to be updated, as it’s a few years old and doesn’t really reflect the 3D art and animations I’m doing at the moment. But the last thing I need to do is slap “in my practice” in there, “In my practice I combine traditional drawing/painting techniques with computer software…”.
You may have used “my practice” yourself without realizing what an annoying cliche it’s become. You are forgiven for your past transgressions. I suffered through my peers in grad school endlessly referring to their own practices (and giving back to the community) — which was just them echoing our instructor’s talking about their own practices — so much that I became allergic to it a quarter century ago. Though, to my credit, I never used practice even when my everyone else around me was. Maybe I’m just too working class, or had been exposed to enough art and art criticism before using practice became a fad, in which case I easily recognized it as puffing oneself up with unnecessary padding.
And if rock musicians aren’t good enough to refer to their music as a practice then I’m not good enough to refer to anything I create artistically as a practice either.
Art has to stand on its own.