Starting an art practice can be daunting. Here are my best tips and ideas to help get you set up for a sustainable practice. It’s all art. This is the tenth in my series on How to Create Your Art Practice.
Have you ever said any of this: “What I make isn’t art!” “I made it from a pattern so it’s not artistic.” “I’m not a painter so I don’t make art.” None of that is actually true. What you make is art. It’s all art.
Little “a” art not big “A” Art
Have you ever noticed that big “A” Art is in museums? Big “A” Art is intimidating and serious and requires a special vocabulary. I’m not talking about Big “A” Art. I’m talking about little “a” art. Little “a” art is anything you make with your hands. Cake? It’s art! Hand sewn dolls? That’s art too! Made it from a pattern? Also art! If you’ve employed your hands and your imagination it completely counts as art.
What I’ve learned while practicing art is that there is always someone somewhere willing to shut the door in your face. To tell you that you don’t measure up in some way. Your art isn’t actually art because of some set of arbitrary rules. Or that you can’t be a part of the community because what you make isn’t valid in some way. “A five year old could do that!” “You don’t draw?!!?” “Crochet isn’t really artistic like knitting is.”
The thing is, you get to make what you want to make and you get to decide how you want to make it. And you have to be willing to find your people who are into the same thing as you so you can practice your little “a” art in your specific community. There will always be haters in this world. Our society makes it easy to be consumers and critics of both things and people. It takes a lot of additional effort to be a maker of things and put yourself out there in front of those critics. Having people around you who are also involved in your little “a” art is a way to protect yourself from all those haters.
I feel like I should attribute the concept of little “a” art and big “A” Art to someone. I know I’ve heard it talked about before but when I asked some friends who I thought I’d heard talk about it, I came up empty and when I did some internet searches, I didn’t come up with anything. Maybe it’s just one of those ideas that is out there now, I don’t know. If you know who to attribute this to, please! send me an email and let me know so I can attribute it properly.
I’m not sure if this post is for you or for me. I suppose the best ones are the ones I most need to hear as well. I’ve talked about people not understanding what I do before and how maybe it’s an education gap. I have to constantly reaffirm to myself that my self-expression is valid. And if I’ve achieved my two goals of 1) make art and 2) have people see my art then I’ve done good work with my life. Maybe you need the same affirmation? My friend Sharyn sums it up really well:
If you make it, you’re practicing your art. The point isn’t to create the next Michaelangelo. It’s to help people find the time to enjoy and nurture their creative nature by making something every day, regardless of what it is.Sharyn Hamilton
So your art practice is about making things consistently, not about what you make or how you make it. Those things will evolve and change over time. Learning to be consistent in your practice is your most powerful tool to develop. Everything else can flow from that. Your good work is often just your continued commitment to yourself by showing up every day to practice your art.
A digression into ancient Art history
I have been fascinated with the Venus of Willendorf since I met her in my art history textbook in the early 90s. In my copy of Janson’s “History of Art” she is thought to be a fertility statuette created from a piece of rock that already had some natural features (bellybutton) and then, the likely, male artist carved the rest to create the finished piece. More modern theories have her created by a woman who made her as a self-portrait. This article is a really great exploration of feminist self-portraiture and she talks about this newish theory of the Willendorf Venus as self-portrait in the opening paragraphs. (Content warning for that link: female nudity.)
I talk about the Venus of Willendorf to say this: whoever made her and whatever their reasoning, they likely didn’t set out to make art or even Art. They may have spotted a thing (a rounded rock with a notch out of it) and used their imagination to create another thing (a tiny statue of a voluptuous woman) or maybe they set out to make a representation of themselves as they noticed the changes in their own body as they aged (whew, I’m feeling these feels at almost 49). Regardless of their reasoning beforehand, they used their imagination and their hands to make an object that we are still marveling over today. I loved her so much, I made a crochet version of her so I effectively made art out of someone else’s art.
And really that creative impulse to make is what I’m highlighting here. The impulse to make a thing, to delight in the time spent on it and with it, to enjoy the thing you’ve made after the work is done, to share it with others, to be encouraged and delighted by others’ comments and their work that flowed from the inspiration of your work. All of that, all of that is the beauty of art. It’s all art.
What are your questions?
Hopefully you’ve been reading along with my How to Create an Art Practice posts. What’s coming up for you? Are you feeling energized to start or are you sagging in the middle? Do you have questions that you are hoping I’ll answer in this series? Send me an email and let me know what you are looking for or wondering about.