Over the past few days, some conversations (in person and also on the radio), have led me to think about the practice of craft and the process of mastery. The word that seems most appropriate is fluency. When one becomes fluent in a language, the listener can focus on the words and the expression of the speaker rather on their grammar or even accent. Whether it is a craft or dance or language, it is the repeated, accumulated action that turns into a natural grace. This is the thing, I think, that there is no way to fake. This is the element missing from much contemporary art, especially that of the young, hot stars of the art world.
I made it to the the Cai Guo-Qiang exhibition at the Guggenheim on the very last day. I found the process videos to be the most engaging. His fluency (that word again), with gunpowder has clearly developed over the years. We started at the top of the Guggenheim and spiralled down, which is how Frank Lloyd Wright intended it. However, it was reverse chronological order (the curators intended us to go up the ramp). Seeing the works that are the more masterful first allowed a contrast with the earlier works, in which he was trying out the language for the first time.
In short, there is no way around the long hours of repetition and focused concentration. However, when one can joyfully embrace the incremental progress along the way and be absorbed inthe work, these hours can become a sactuary rather than a chore.