Tag archive for » practice your craft «

“Make Bad Art” — No!

Sunday, 26. September 2021 22:57

“Make bad art” is the mantra repeated by many who hold themselves out to be creative advisors, and even some artists. Don’t believe me? Just Google it. I got over 10.7 billion—that’s right, billion—hits. (Your mileage may vary, as it often does with individual Google searches). So what’s this all about?

Some of these writers are concerned about what exactly bad art is. Some wonder why some art is bad. Some celebrate the creation of bad art. Some say that we have to make bad art before we can make good art. Some are even concerned about applying the labels “good” and “bad” to art at all. But most of these pundits take the position that we can’t always make good art, so making bad art is preferable to making no art. Some will tackle all of these concerns in the same essay or blog post.

The problem that I see is that a number of these writers are actively advising people to make bad art like it’s a goal to which one should aspire; that I find problematic. Others are using the advice as a tool or learning exercise, which is somewhat more forgivable.

At least one other writer advises the opposite. Neil Gaiman, in his small book Art Matters, has a whole chapter entitled “Make Good Art,” in which he outlines a number of situations that numerous other writers offer as excuses for making bad art. Gaiman instead, in each instance, suggests that the reader make good art. Gaiman has also given a speech on the same topic (a video is also available which is well-worth the 20 minutes that it takes to watch it).

Gaiman, I think is more on track; I can find no really good reason to make bad art. However, like a number of artists I know, I have always had trouble with calling the work that I do “art” although it is clearly in the “world of the arts.” Given a choice, I would substitute “practice your craft” for Gaiman’s “make good art” advice.

There are a number of reasons for this: (1) it is almost as positive as Gaiman’s “make good art,” eliminating the negative notion of “bad” art. (2) It avoids the whole issue of whether what we are doing is art or not. Whether it is or isn’t, it is certainly craft, and that is something that can be practiced. (3) It is neutral and thus can be applied in any situation—whether other things in our lives are good or bad—without reference to the ongoing situation. (4) It is sound advice and keeps us pointed in a creative and productive direction.

So to substitute in Gaiman’s book and in the speech noted above: “Husband runs off with a politician?” Practice your craft. “Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor?” Practice your craft. “IRS on your trail?” Practice your craft. “Cat exploded?” Practice your craft. “Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before?” Practice your craft. “Probably things will work out some how, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what you do best.” Practice your craft. Practice your craft “on good days too.”

It may not be as clever or delightful as Gaiman’s series of statements on “make good art,” but it’s still sound advice. Practice your craft!

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Professionals Practice

Sunday, 21. July 2013 22:09

Being a professional anything requires having reached a certain level of proficiency and having the ability to maintain that proficiency. In order to do that, professionals in all areas have to keep their skills honed. All professionals understand that to stay at the top of their game, to grow, requires constant information-gathering and continuous practice. It is no different for arts professionals.

First, I must clarify what I mean by “professional.” (It’s a topic that has come up before.) Some define a professional artist as one who makes most of his/her income as an artist. I am rather inclined to think that professionalism is about involvement, attitude, approach, and standards. One of the marks of the professional, at least in my mind, is that he/she works at his/her art every day. This is most often expressed as “practicing your craft” or sometimes “practicing your art.” It doesn’t matter where your income comes from; it doesn’t matter that you have a day job; it matters that you make art and that you work at it every day—not play at it, not piddle with it—work at it.

Actors talk about practicing their craft, as do singers—and they do it daily. In fact, every practicing professional performer I know practices daily. World class trumpeter Louis Armstrong said, “Even If I have two three days off, you still have to blow that horn. You have to keep up those chops… I have to warm up every day for at least an hour.” Many, even though they may teach classes themselves, take lessons—it’s another form of practice. And what holds true for performers holds true for other artists as well.

But there is some latitude in what constitutes “practicing your art.” I do not necessarily believe that if you are a photographer, for example, you must take a picture every day. But you must work at seeing every day, and on those days that you do not actually pick up a camera, you can work at a computer, or at tray in the darkroom, or mat an image, or frame a picture.

Some might argue that these last two activities don’t constitute “practicing your art.” Having matted and framed a good number of images, I have found that you can learn something almost every time you go through the process. Those tasks provide a unique opportunity to look at your work in a context very different from the norm. This allows you to see things that you might not ordinarily see, and thus learn and improve your art—which is, after all, one of the goals of practice. Some arts involve many different tasks and processes, and performing those can certainly qualify as “practicing your art” and can contribute to artistic proficiency and growth.

Some will claim not to have enough subject matter or materials to keep them working every day. These artists might consider classes, or exercises. There are painting-a-day challenges; there are photograph-a-day challenges. Both of these keep artists in practice, and occasionally produce some very good work. And they are indeed challenging. (Ask anyone who’s attempted one.)

There are other approaches as well. Renowned poet Wallace Stevens had a day job, but he managed to work at his art every day. “Stevens generally preferred to walk to work alone because he wanted the solitude to compose poetry.

We won’t all get to Carnegie Hall, but we all know the way. The problem is many of us are not sure that we want to work that hard or that unceasingly. But that’s what it takes to maintain our skills and to grow. And that’s what it means to be a professional artist.

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