Sunday, July 12, 2009

How Much Practice?

10,000 hours, apparently.

I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's books: The Tipping Point, Blink (my favourite) and his latest (which I'm just reading) Outliers - The Story Of Success (which I'm not enjoying so much).

In this latest book, he explores the factors that go into making some people exceptionally successful. It seems to hinge on a few crucial twists of fate, the time and culture they grow up in and the way they spend their time.

Another factor is that most of the successful people he investigates have worked at or practiced their skills for around 10,000 HOURS! On average, that's at least three hours a day for ten years. Practicing.

It seems that's what it takes.

They say that practice makes perfect.

But perfect at what?

I've been thinking about this since I wrote a few days ago about practicing the piano.

If I'd practiced for half an hour each day - as I was supposed to - I have no doubt that I would have been a better pianist. If I'd practiced for 10,000 hours, I daresay I would have been a very competent pianist. But would I ever have been great? Or successful? And is that what it was about?

With art, I like to go out sketching and if I do it often enough, I get better at it. I know this.

I could draw for 3 hours a day for a decade.

I could go to life classes and take lessons.

And I might do.

In the end I might be very competent at drawing - technically very accomplished. I could look at something or someone and produce an accurate likeness, probably in a variety of media and variety of styles. And I'm sure that would be impressive.

But would that make me an artist?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Reflections on the art market

I've just realised how bad the art scene is in Cardiff. I was planning to visit a few galleries and as I went through them in my mind, I realised how many of them are not there any more!

One of the longer-established galleries has laid off its only full-time employee and cut its opening hours to just 3 days a week. Another gallery in the city centre opened for a few months and then closed. Another in the Bay - that was only open for about a year - has recently closed, though they are planning to relocate and reopen. We'll see.

I'm sure there are lots of reasons for these closures, but the bottom-line has to be that the bottom-line isn't adding up. Each of them seemed to have no shortage of artists wanting to show in them, but a severe shortage of people going to view the exhibitions and buy works of art. The 'credit crunch' has abviously exacerbated the situation, but it was a trend long before that.

I've been looking at some research carried out by the Arts Council, regarding the visual arts and crafts. It dates back to 2005 / 2006 and it indicates that the trends were already there.

The key findings were:

Those who engage with the visual arts are typically white, well educated and of high social status;

There is a strong regional effect in the case of art exhibitions, museums, galleries etc. - those living outside London are a lot less likely to attend.

The visual arts venues are not seen to be relevant or accessible to a majority of the population. This is backed up by findings which showed that a large number of people believe that the arts are ‘not for people like me’.

The conclusion is that:

"A range of different strategies are therefore required if we are to overcome both the practical and psychological barriers to engagement with the visual arts."

My aim is to make a living as an artist. I've identified a number of ways of doing this and I'm in the process of developing strategies and frameworks for making these work in practice and on a sustainable basis. This means developing new models and methods - which I hope will be useful to me and to other artists that I want to help and support.

The old way of doing things - particularly the gallery system - is no longer working so it's futile to continue putting time and energy into it. A lot of creative thinking, energy and effort needs to go into developing new ways of doing things that are better suited to the current zetgeist ("the spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation").

This is some of what's bubbling away in the background as I wait for a number of things to click into place.

Monday, July 06, 2009

I Have No Style

When I was young (primary school age) I took piano lessons. I was pretty good, too ... passed exams, got grades and all that. My Dad wanted to send me round the pubs, to make some money off me. Better than going up the chimneys or down the mines, I suppose. Fortunately, we moved and had to sell the piano.

My piano teacher was Hirioth Davies and she lived up "The Pitching" (an old, cobbled street up the side of a steep hill) in Llantrisant. She had a long pencil (about a foot long) that she used to annotate the music, to keep time, and to rap me over the knuckles with when I made a mistake.

That happened a lot because I didn't practice as much as I should have.

I was supposed to do half an hour's practice every day. Yeah right.

First I had to do scales. Up and down the keyboard practicing fingering and developing what I now know as 'muscle memory'. Eventually I would instinctively know where the notes were, how to get to them, how to combine them , how to transpose from one key to another.

This led on to practicing specific pieces of music. Usually classical. Starting out clunky and cacophonous, eventually I would get the hang of it and then be able to play with greater fluidity and expression.

As I developed my abilities, I was able to tackle a new piece of music more easily and get the hang of it more quickly. In the later stages, in exams, I was able to sight read pieces of music I had never seen before.

Pretty cool, huh? Imagine how good I would have been if I'd actually put in the practice!

Now I'm learning to make art instead of music.

I go out sketching most days and, to me, that's like practicing my scales. I usually sketch the same things over and over again - landscapes and tree trunks mainly.

But I've been worrying that I don't sketch in a defined style. Or rather, that I do for a while and then it changes.

Lately, my landscape sketches have been much more fluid and colourful - using ink and coloured pencils, rather than pens or charcoal. My tree trunks are more linear and I'm using ink and wash rather than pencil.

But now I'm thinking that this is all part of the process and that it's OK ... necessary, even.

When I learned to play scales, I learned different, more complicated ones as I progressed. This enabled me to tackle more difficult compositions. That's what it's like with my sketching. I'm developing a broader range of skills that will enable me to tackle different pieces of work.

Perhaps it's not so much that I don't have any style ... it's that I have many styles ... depending on what I want to do.

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