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].

Damien Hirst (b.1965) is a British contemporary artist. His varied practice explores the complex relationships between art, religion, science, life and death.

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.

Koons seroiusly claiming to have improved upon old master paintings by adding a blue gazing ball in front of them.

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!

Right, I also can’t stand, “give back to the community”.

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.

~ Ends

22 replies on “Runaway Rant: My Art is not a “Practice”

  1. Eric, I am still laughing, (with you). I have a similar reaction to “craft” but most people mean well. I was interviewed by a literary scholar that mentioned my craft. I wonder if maybe it suggests how visual art is different than a writer? Regardless I enjoyed your rant.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah, “craft” is also annoying, but quite a bit different, and much less popular these days because “craft” is a bad word in the contemporary art paradigm. It’s almost as bad as “kitsch” is good if used ironically in appropriation art.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m pretty sure I managed to offend some artists I like who just started using “practice” because everyone else does, and it seems to sound professional. It’s kinda’ like telling someone their breath stinks. They need to know, and they’re probably glad you pointed it out, but they are still offended.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Haha I have used “practice” several times in my blog, though not like, “my practice”… just, “this is all practice [for something]”. As in, “practice makes perfect”.

    Practice for what though? You raise a good point about even using the word in that way; everything a person does is potentially making what they do better, so every action is always “practice”.

    As long as I say “I am practicing”, maybe I’m also implicitly saying “I’m not doing anything for real yet”. Your posts are always stuffed with ideas and lessons, thank you as always.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yeah, I have no issue with “practice” meaning learning and honing new skills. I do that all the time, and blog about doing various exercises and finishing tutorial courses.

      People use it to mean “a job or business that involves a lot of skill or training”. I’ll take a screenshot of the definition at the Cambridge Dictionary and update my post just to be even more clear. I know you know what I mean, but just in case someone out there might be a little fuzzy on the multiple meanings.

      Glad you enjoyed my little rant of the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your cynicism, Eric. My human has a design degree (with honours) and, at the school where they studied, there was, of course, a Fine Arts branch. The human absolutely recognises the elitist/ivory tower dribble of terms like ‘my practice’, in respect to these people (not all of them, but most, and especially the tutors)… they have an entire language designed to bolster the importance of what they do, and, at the same time, make that bolstering opaque to people who don’t speak the speak. And the less what they do is actually recognisable as art to us low-brows, the more firmly it is wrapped up in solipsistic verbiage. The human particularly despised the way these oiks looked down their noses at designers. The human spent a lot of time, in essays and assignments, pointing out the elitist, self-serving attempt at slight-of-hand these people played, with the lowly ‘others’, as well as with themselves. It’s an interesting fact that ‘Fine Art’, driven by these deluded, usually well-off, ivory tower ‘artists’, has become as opaque to the masses as the language they wrap themselves in, to the degree that what is now ‘popular art’ is usually the work of… people with design degrees (:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That all syncs with my sense of reality. And I think it goes back quite a way. I like to point out that during the musical renaissance of the late 60’s to early 70’s there was no popular visual art equivalent. Artists were being steered into conceptual mind games. There was no Jim Morrison, or Jimi Hendrix, or rock star of choice among painters, because artists were making elite, conceptual art, minimalism, and other rather obtuse work. There wasn’t a popular form of art equivalent to rocks music, practiced by primarily young people. The zeitgeist of the era was captured by music, epitomized in Woodstock, but the visual arts mostly only contributed album and poster art, as helpers, but not prime movers. Entire generations of would-be painters were sidelined, squelched, and defeated by the primacy given to conceptual art in academia.
      The designers and illustrators are much more popular and successful than their fine artist peers – and that includes me. I only maintain the freedom of fine art to do whatever I want, and not to have to answer to a boss, manager, or client. I maintain the ability to use art to explore the imagination and address the big questions, to try to transcend the merely mundane: the banal that official fine art embraces as the height of reality. But I am officially divorced from the fine art world, and just make my own art, now using the tools of digital art.
      There’s a vista, which is neither compartmentalized in the fine art paradigm, nor the more commercial application of art. The rewards are minimal, but the freedom and potential is unlimited.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Does the contempt for designers and pictorial art go back to Duchamp? Or is it just the legion of admirers who copy his pranks and brand themselves “groundbreaking”, “innovative”, “novel” etc ? All attempts to attach a bit of the prestige given to industries that rely on scientific professions to the work of an artist. It seems like the ideology is an after-effect of a huge lack of ideas and confidence in the fine arts.

        I think Duchamp was also reacting to the way photography had seemed to make traditional painting obsolete, but now that seems more like tech-triumphalism of the early 20th century.

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        1. Yes, Duchamp very specifically was against pictorial art, and the tradition of art itself, which he sought to destroy as he felt the legitimacy of religion had been destroyed. He was “anti-art”. It’s quite a long tradition, though you are probably right about the “legion of admirers” that “brand themselves” as radical.

          I’m not sure about Duchamp’s relation to photography. Photography handily surpassed painting in terms of documentary function. I don’t think there’s any real argument against that in practical terms. This might have been a blow to some kinds of painting, but also freed up artists to pursue more subjective and expressive avenues of painting. Duchamp wasn’t having any of that either.

          Why does one thing need to be destroyed in order for another to exist? This is a fallacy in the art world, and a grave one. The reason I dislike Duchampianism isn’t becuase of his somewhat charming personal and wry artifacts, but because of his role in trying to abolish visual art, which has been quite an effective movement, sidelining and crushing generations of would-be representational painters.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Also, checked out your blog, because you seem like an interesting thinker. I like the way you do short posts about whatever insight you’re having, and you seem to go at it when you have a little bit different angle that gives some clarity on the subject. But there’s no place to comment. And yet you comment here. Oh well.

          Like

          1. Thanks, I had no plan for this site, and didn’t know the comments were disabled. That’s pretty embarrassing, as the only plan I do have is to enable more uncensored speech however I can, so you should be able to comment now.

            Posts happen when I feel grumpy or obsessed enough to write, and usually are tied to whatever I was reading at the time.

            Like

            1. “Posts happen when I feel grumpy or obsessed enough to write, and usually are tied to whatever I was reading at the time.” I think this is true for a lot of people a lot of the time. There’s that need to get something off your chest, especially if you’ve got a good way of articulating it. Well, that happens to me frequently enough anyway.

              Like

  4. “Well, I never….!!!!” she huffed self-righteously. Actually (“actually” is the buzz word at the top of my personal hate list–did you do something inactually for pity’s sake?) I have never used, at least not to my knowledge, the word “practice” in relation to my art. I must travel with the peons because none of the artists I hang out with use it either. However, should I be proven wrong and someone shows me an instance when I have been silly enough to say I have an art “practice”, please feel free to lash me with a wet noodle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m fond of the shell noodles, so I might have to pelt you with them, instead. I use “actually” sometimes. It’s become a transition word that can link two sentences that might seem stilted without that little bridge. But I know it’s as bad as “honestly”. I try to use it sparingly, and when I actually mean it, such as in contradicting something which is not actual.
      My guess is that when artists need to do a bio, and talk about art, they may be instructed to talk about their “practice”. Most artists that use it just seem to be imitating the general model that the professional artists use. I don’t really fault an amateur painter, for example, for innocently adopting the jargon of the professional art world. I fault the people who set the example, not so much newbies who follow it.
      I mean, I don’t want to shoot down my fellow struggling artists just for adopting the lingo of the day, especially if I like their art. I just want them to know they sound like Jeff Koons.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I also think its stupid and pretentious, but for a different set of reasons.

    “Practice” is used by technical and service professional to imply inherent ambiguity of the field requiring human skill, craft like an artisan to fill in the gaps. So technical professionals like architects , law and medicine are claiming the glamor of an artist. Its redundant pretentious and pretending to be a bourgie professional class for an individual artists to do this . To do so is denying the ART of the artist. if its your vision, its not a practice, its your art.

    in the professional Fields “A practice” IS NOW Synonymous with a midlevel business partnership group. Professionals banding together in small guilds. The only artists who ought to be saying that are designer lead design firms, and professional artists that work on specified corporate commissions ie hired craftsman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points.

      And you reminded me of something important, which is that I hold “art” to be above a “practice”. I hadn’t realized it as I wrote the post, but part of my objection to using “practice” is that it devalues the are that is “your vision”.

      Thanks for reading and adding intelligently to the conversation.

      Like

  6. I had a good chuckle over this. Since when has art become such a burden to the artist? Why must my art also take on a sort of religious practice and give back to the community? I am not a church or an institution. I am merely a human with an imagination and a paintbrush. Now leave me be.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s a good point. I much prefer down-to-earth, straightforward language. I think often people just don’t trust the basic words (I make art) to do their work.

    Liked by 1 person

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