We’re talking about practice

February 1, 2008

Allan Iverson would be proud. Roberta Smith writes in the New York Times about the troubled language thrown around in fine arts discussion. Critical discourse– talk, chat, grousing– always seems to suffer from a lack of precision, which should come as no surprise. After all, the subjects are slippery, leaving critics to play catch-up.

She laments the increased use of “reference” and “privilege” as verbs. Fair enough. But in her main target, “practice,” she finds all kinds of foul association with professionalism. Doctors and lawyers practice; they need licenses. Do artists?  What’s more, the looming shadow of hard sciences long ago upended art-talk. We want to sound that precise, to use statistics with the smug certainty of the white coats.

Yet I always took the word– no doubt naively– in the same spirit as the monks. Spiritual practice. You keep doing something over and over, whether drawings lines or praying the Rosary, until your soul opens up and fills with light. Or doesn’t. But look back and you’ve gone somewhere. And I would think this “practice” we’re talking about could be imprecise enough to welcome both meanings.

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