Patrick E. McLean : Just what it says on the tin.

The Reason to Practice an Art

It occurs to me, how much of my life I have spent in the practice of an art. As I write it, the word ‘art’ seems ladened with incorrect connotations. It seems more correct to describe the process as a craft. There is, to be certain, an art of writing. But to get to the art requires a tremendous amount of craft. So much craft that I find it misleading to talk about the ‘Art of Writing.’

As long as I have worked as a writer, I also have trained in the martial arts. When I set this fact into words, it seems such an odd contradiction to me that I have never been able to write about the martial arts. But the longer that I work in both arts, the more I come to believe they are the same. This may be an illusion of perspective. I may be making them the same through my work.

But whatever the reality may be, the question of why to practice any art remains. There is a practical aspect to all things. One may build furniture because one needs a place to sit. One may also build furniture to sell because one needs money. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What compels someone to perfect the craft of building furniture? Another way to ask this question; why am I still trying to improve my writing?

For all practical purposes, my writing is good enough. And it’s been good enough, for practical purposes, for years. But still, I push to do new things. I explore new forms. I reach for longer and bigger stories. I try to convey ideas more simply and powerfully. At all times and in all ways I attempt to do more with less. This is difficult, uncomfortable and it doesn’t pay anything. Writing ads is easy and it pays well. Why don’t I just do the easy stuff?

I’m not sure I have a simple answer to this question. I don’t think that large questions, questions of the spirit, questions of deeper motivation have simple answers. There are no soundbites that can describe what drives us. I’m sure ego has something to do with it. I think greater things lie within me and I would let them out. But the ego-answer is the closest I can get to solving this riddle — the more I practice, the more I learn about myself.

In the end, I think that’s the only profound reason to do anything. Or as Edmund Hillary said of climbing mountains,

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

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