When thinking about art as a practice rather than a career, just what is ‘a practice’ and how can it be meaningful for us?
The word practice could be a verb or a noun. As a verb, practice refers to a deliberate repeated activity, for example training to acquire skills or knowledge or rehearsing to prepare a performance. The verb’s Greek root is “to achieve, accomplish,” and generally we think of practice as goal-oriented.
On the other hand, the noun practice is not just a description of a means to an end. Even though we have a tendency to link practice to theory in a kind of cause-and-effect relationship, the literal Greek root praxis describes human activity without specific design or goal. Aristotle elaborated on this point in his writings on ethics:
Theoretical activity [‘theorea’] is the pursuit of truth through contemplation.
Productive activity [‘poeisis’] can be defined as that involved in making something, like an artifact, beginning with a original plan or design that is then worked out using various skills.
Practical activity [‘praxis’] does not begin with a particular plan or theory, but instead with a problem or a situation. A practice is a continual human process of testing and examination, an interplay between means and ends as well as thoughts and actions. The subject is ultimately oneself and one’s approach to ones work, considered on a longer time frame.
In praxis there is no prior knowledge of any correct means for realizing a goal. Through the medium of an art form, each project is part of an ongoing research about personal attitudes, principles and methods. It’s a form of experiential learning, a process of making meaning from direct experience. A way to examine oneself through one’s actions and not necessarily one’s words; a way to develop a personal ethics without deluding oneself and others; a way to insights more valuable than a paycheck or a review.
If one takes it seriously, making art is a continuous ongoing practice – much the same as law or medicine is a practice – a lifelong attempt to develop oneself through the medium of one’s work. It can be a bracing or even ruthless process, with unforseen consequences.
You can always earn a living in your spare time.