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Practice makes perfect

An essay published in the Fukui Shimbun-Newspaper, on 24 February 2016

When meeting someone for the first time and asked what my hobbies are, I have difficulty answering. I recognize that I have a lot of hobbies, and as my interests range widely, I have trouble explaining where my hobbies end, and when they become a profession. As I am an artist, I will say that "creating works of art" is my profession, but it is also the ultimate hobby. The reason is, because while a "hobby" is an endeavor which is to be enjoyed, and not performed as a profession, the creation of artwork cannot be accomplished without the accompaniment of pleasure or delight. (Although in some cases it certainly can be an experience filled with suffering as well)

In any case, The most practical among my many hobbies is "cooking," and since our household is a two-income family, it comes in pretty handy. Many of my fellow artists are gourmands, so naturally they have a high interest in cooking. For example, one of them can prepare curry using a unique blend of spices gathered at the source, while another can slice sashimi with cutting skills that could make a sushi chef blush. All of them are pretty serious about their cooking, and so it stirs my competitive juices to the point that I think, "I can't lose to them!"

Just recently, when I invited my friends to my house, I was highly praised for my cooking. And as we talked about the ways we learned to cook, the conversation turned to my dearly departed mother.

My mother was very good at cooking. She once ran a food business, and so you could say she was a professional cook. But now that I think about it, I have no memories of her ever teaching me how to cook. About all I can remember is standing by her side and tasting her work while she tested recipes. By the time I got to middle school, both of my parents became incredibly busy, working from early morning to late into the night. To put it another way, I was practically neglected.

Since my parents were not at home, I shared cooking duties with my sister, who was one year older than myself. Thinking back on those times, I would have liked to praise my efforts, as I prepared my own Bento-Box lunches every day during my 3 years in middle school. Luckily, we had cookware that other regular homes would not have had, so I could challenge myself by making desserts and baking bread. I remember that, in my own way, I still managed to have fun.

By the way, I wonder if there is a best method for learning how to cook. Can you recreate the flavors of a professional chef by faithfully following recipes in a cookbook?

Right now I am working on a project to publish a guide book on non-toxic printmaking techniques, but explaining the process and its tips was more difficult than I had imagined. How to express something that can be simply performed into words? In order to find hints, I began reading several cookbooks - not with the objective of learning to cook, but in order to figure out my own process for analyzing the methods of teaching skills. But I discovered that these books only gave rough indications of ingredient amounts and simple procedural steps. Perhaps preliminary preparations, the handling of cookware, and basic cooking knowledge prior to learning a recipe was assumed to have been already understood.

Having things explained roughly can necessarily give rise to filling in the blanks with one's own imagination and experience, but I began to believe that here lay hidden the pressure points which would give birth to "creativity."

In both cooking and the creation of art, it's not enough to simply acquire knowledge alone. You will never reach your goals. You will learn much more quickly if you repeatedly commit mistakes, with your body naturally learning how to react through experience, becoming familiar through repetition and practice. As they say, it's "practice makes perfect."

To borrow the words of Victor Lowenfeld, who originated the momentum that became arts education in the 20th century, technique is simply something which develops in response to what the individual demands of it, and at its highest levels is a very personal thing. And thus, technique is something that can neither be explained nor taught. The only thing that can be explained is the procedure.

In order to learn expressive techniques, not only in fine art but in all forms of art, it demands repetitive practice and requires the devotion of long hours. This Spring marks 10 full years in my life as a university faculty member, but I wonder if I myself have secured the requisite amount of time that my students have in the pursuit of discovering their own unique technique. The words of Lowenfeld resonate deeply within my soul.

Visiting my old teacher's printmaking studio, Ghent Belgium.

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