What’s ‘artistic practice’?

Artist often describe their work as ‘artistic practice’, but what does this mean?

Artists often describe their work as ‘artistic practice’, but what does this mean? In so many areas of the art world the words used to describe the facts can be confusing or misleading. One such example being the term ‘Private View’, or the launch of an exhibition or gallery opening. Contrary to the word ‘Private’ these events are usually a public event that everyone is welcome to attend. So what do artists mean when they say ‘artistic practice’?

My own practice, like many artists, is wide and varied; predominantly using play to explore themes that effect society and using the commonality of memories to bring people together. On a personal level my practice has really helped me to enjoy and make the most of the time I’ve had to spend at home over the past 18 months. I’m fortunate to have my own home studio and it’s proved an invaluable asset in these uncertain times. A place I could rely on, somewhere I could make and be creative… a place of work and also somewhere I could escape to.

Me playing with my toys during my Fine Art Degree at UCLan (Preston) circa. 2009

I’ve always consciously made time to play and experiment with old and new materials and ideas in my practice, constantly exploring different ways of working. Recently I’ve revisited previous ideas with a fresh eye and new approach. I’ve given myself time to improve and develop skills, ensuring that ‘quality’ is at the centre of my creative outcomes. Most importantly I’ve been doing this every day. Sometimes with a camera, or maybe a pen or pencil… other times with clay, sometimes with written words… on some occasions digitally, at other times physically. The choice of method and materials irrelevant… most important is the habit of daily practice.

Experimenting with my drawing tablet at portrait sessions with the brilliant Kate Munro.

During the past year I have attended online sessions in a variety of different areas. I learnt how to make plasticine models from modelmaker and animator Jim Parkyn, I attended online portrait sessions with Kate Munro, I taught myself how to edit videos for projects, I refined my sculptural techniques, I spoke with Jon Wright every week on BBC Radio Suffolk in my own slot all about creativity… all these creative endeavours form part of my overall ‘artistic practice’. The failures, the successes, the skills, the insights… they all inform the work I make and my ‘artistic practice’ going forward.

Me and the models – All made during 2020 and taught by the brilliant modelmaker Jim Parkyn

Graeme Sullivan (2006) talks about practice in his paper ‘Artefacts as evidence within changing context’

A central feature of art practice is that it embodies ideas that are given form in the process of making artworks. Irrespective of the informing sources, media preferences, or image base, the artist exercises individual control over the creation and presentation of artefacts as forms of knowledge. Further, the images and ideas created have the capacity to not only change the artist’s conceptions of reality, but also influence the viewer’s interpretation of artworks. Consequently art practice can be seen as a form of intellectual and imaginative inquiry, and as a place where research can be carried out that is robust enough to yield reliable insights that are well grounded and culturally relevant.

Sullivan suggests that ‘artistic practice’ is a constant imaginative inquiry that gives the artist time to create and develop work that has a cultural and artistic relevance. Most important to me is the freedom and control that I have as the creator to practice as I wish to do so. I can choose how to explore ideas; this process is what is at the centre of me as an artist and is my ‘artistic practice’.

In more simple terms ‘artistic practice’ gives us as artists a strong and stable foundation to make work from. And we all know that ‘practice makes perfect’. The first attempt at a new way of working will never be as good as the 100th or 1000th time. In the same way that an athlete builds up muscle memory to carry out the perfect action in their individual sport; it’s just as important for me to train myself to have the dexterity in my motor skills and in my creative thinking. Through practice an artist is metaphorically creating their own tool kit; their own reserve of creative ideas, language, equipment and materials, something that continuously evolves and is used to make work in the future.

So what is ‘artistic practice’? It’s simply the practical and intellectual tools and skills that an artist chooses to use and refine on a daily basis in a constant and never-ending exploration of creativity. Next time you see an artwork on display remember that you are looking through a small window onto the life of an artist and their whole ‘artistic practice’.

Me and my bird box ‘Intervallum’ at First Light Festival 2021.

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