Slow Progress

Each day’s work/practice builds on the last. Put in one day of effort, and the next day, you’ll be building on the last, and so on, and so on. Except when you need to take a break.

Late in life I’ve discovered, or finally absorbed what it means to try a little, then rest, then try again, then rest. This can make the whole process of art-making (or almost anything) less arduous, more pleasurable. … One way to do this is to put in work daily on something you’re trying to accomplish. Each day you’ll move “ahead” some, though “ahead” is not totally accurate. Through? Around? Across? Maybe it’s just safest to say you’ll move. Somewhere.

Another way of experiencing this process is to work on one piece just before the stress or tension or feeling of doubt sets in; then give it a rest, while working on something else. The rhythm employed here can feel almost dance-like as you move between pieces, tho’ sometimes a bit schizoid, particularly as you get numerous pieces going at once. … I suspect that artists have done something like this from time immemorial, because, no doubt, for as long as there’s been art-making, there’ve been battles between insight and judgment, acuity and dullness, poor self-talk and self-aggrandizement —  all in the name of trying to get on the page (or canvas) something that wants to be recorded, that looks somewhat akin to what is imagined.

When I studied singing decades ago,  my voice teachers each had their own idiosyncratic metaphors for how to translate the sensations of singing to their students.  I was told to imagine an egg in the back of my throat (to create a wide “ahhh” opening), to sing along a “ribbon of sound” in order to keep the sound from moving jaggedly into and out of various registers. The effort then in singing was to imagine what those teachers meant, how singing (“releasing the voice”) felt to them, and how I might feel those same sensations in my throat or along that imaginary ribbon. Visual art is the first practice I’ve done where I haven’t tried to translate someone else’s instructions to my own experience. I try to paint until something looks real to me, what I call “real,” that is, or at least pleasurable. Something that registers in my perception as recognizable, something I can converse with. I would imagine that most artists can articulate a parallel sort of experience, tho’ likely in other terms. Perhaps poetry is really the medium for this topic. ?

As a part-time teacher, I’m often challenged to convey some sort of at-peace sense to my students, to encourage and guide them back to a relationship or dialogue with themselves that has gotten disrupted somehow. It’s not usually enough to say “trust yourself,” but really that’s the message underlying all others.

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