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Our Biggest Flex

A friend recently asked me in a Zoom conversation regarding my art practice, “Are you now painting, too?!” I laughed. He’d spotted a new work I’d posted on Instagram which did include paint. “Well,” I said, “I’ve incorporated paint into some pieces recently, yes, but I wouldn’t call myself a painter. At least I’m not one yet.”

And I continued something along the lines of this:

But if you’d asked me two years ago if I was an artist working with textiles, the answer would have been no. An artist at all? No. If you’d asked me eight years ago if I was a curator and producer, the answer would have been no. If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I was a voice artist and script writer, the answer would have been no. Fifteen years ago was I performance artist? No. What about a writer 25 years ago? No. An aspiring one, yes, but a practicing one? No.

To practice art is to exercise creative, cognitive, intellectual and spiritual muscles consistently and frequently and then to produce artifacts which evidence growth. It is to grow, learn, allow work to expand and be informed by what I learn and what I experience in life – and then to sharpen the vision and intuition (the muscles) that can spot where the intersection of the making of something and the living of life can be made a portal into new understanding – for myself or for others who journey with me through engaging with my art.

It's a propulsion of energy outward and inward to strengthen the breadth and depth of one's craft.

I experience the practice of art as a circular and ever-expanding experience, but also one which pulls me further inward or downward the way a whirlpool, that body of rotating water produced by opposing currents, is a vortex of energy. It’s a propulsion of energy outward and inward to strengthen the breadth and depth of one’s craft. And then it’s a matter of managing the energy so that, rather than allow it to become a destructive maelstrom, it is given space and breath to excavate, unveil, peel back the waters to offer at least a glimpse of something that would otherwise go unseen.

I suppose this is to say that to practice art is to become an explorer.

And an artist engaging in a professional practice is one who functions as an explorer who is compensated fairly and consistently for what one not only discovers but also then shares with others (which is to say creates, produces, and teaches). I think of myself less as an artist who engages in a professional practice than I do as a professional creative who chooses art as one avenue through which to explore myself, my world (whether that is my house, community, the earth), and my place within and responsibility to that world.

While I use it from time to time, I’m skeptical of the term ‘professional’ just as I am of the term ‘full-time’ as identifiers of the artist or the practice of art, art-making, art-ing. They operate as labels which I experience as superficial validations that confine the concept of Artist to fit within a structure of capitalism informed by Eurocentrism and the pursuit of access to these identifiers potentially compromises (or seems contradictory to) the very thing we aim to practice: art.

And to practice art is to quest for freedom. To flex toward freedom.

*This is the first of weekly blog posts required for my MFA class Professional Practice: Digital Interfaces with Lee Blalock at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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