Year-end reflections

When we talk of risk in the arts, we tend to talk only about creative risk: the questions we dare to ask; the leaps we’re ready to take; the boundaries we’ll push to breaking point.

And yet, as each year ends, and the new year becomes more than just a glimmer on the horizon, too often we feel tired. Exhausted. Burnt out.

Making the time to reflect critically on our practice is not only essential to the rigour we demand of ourselves. It’s also essential to our good health.

While December can overwhelm with its relentless festive cheer, it’s also the perfect time to reframe your thinking and reset your daily practice. A few moments each day reflecting on what you do, how you do it, and why you do it, can invigorate your work, your technique and your ethic.

So. Where is your practice at right now?

Are you craving the space and time for deeper, more rigorous thinking or research? Or are you craving instead the networks and provocations that might broaden your thinking and take it in new directions?

What consumes you? What makes your world stop?

Are you happy with what you’re making?

Does your work engage your passions?

When did you last see new work that arrested you? How did you respond? Did you write about it? Did you tell the artist?

Where do your provocations to practice come from?

What drives you?

How do you make the space to understand what drives you?

How do you set the most productive constraints for your work? Are you happy with the scope of your experimentations?

Where is the risk in your practice? What risks are you still taking?

Is your practice still developing?

Sometimes we only find ourselves thinking these kinds of questions through when we’re forced to. A grant application. An artist statement for an upcoming show. A short bio for publication. For each of these, we respond to the questions and the word count that are imposed upon us, resenting the reflective work as labour towards someone else’s requirements.

A practice that embraces critical reflection can stimulate new thinking constructively, confidently, and in the manner that best works for you and your process.

It’s the arts. To be here, we’ve made a decision – explicitly or otherwise – to live our lives at very high levels of creative and intellectual intensity. These, of course, are also physical intensities, highlighting that precarious relationship between physical and mental health. And this affects the work. And this is the work.

A recurring theme from my recent visit to WA was: Fit your own oxygen mask before helping others. The recent Australia Council research makes this all the more urgent, as does all the great work being done at the moment on physical and mental health in the arts. Sometimes the most generous thing we can do for ourselves is to allow ourselves the time to focus entirely on how we work and what we value. And yet, for too many of us, the risk of devoting time to what seems to be an indulgence seems too great.

In sharing this short list of questions, I invite you to make your own provocations – by yourself, with collaborators, with friends from vastly different fields. Revisit NAVA’s past podcasts and immerse in other artists’ thinking in real depth. And then, as you discover ways to work your new provocations into your day, to enjoy where they take you. It’s the simplest of things.

IMAGE: Aleksandra Domanović, Substances of human origin (Pose 1, 2, 3) (2015) from Future Eaters