This morning, I left a note on my haiku blog announcing I’d no longer be posting daily haiku. My streak ended at five years. I don’t expect the news to be picked up by a major media outlet—that blog averages six visitors a day—but it’s a big deal to me.
In my debate between process and product, process usually wins. After all, it isn’t about this essay but essay writing, not about this drawing or painting but art, not about haiku but haiku-ish-ness. If the aim is practice, any one effort matters less than habits of self-expression, efficiency and method, a way to work, not individual works. Process allows endless growth, for what is a product but a frozen frame of that moment? True practitioners move on and up, improve, as adequate instantly becomes inadequate.
So the theory goes.
Process is also a dodge. Authors write novels for publication, illustrators want to see images beside text, poets envision work collected, and painters hope to frame and show paintings. Creating a product has consequence process does not. Both reach that juncture where the artist must decide between good and good enough, but a product brings special pressure to perform, pressure for perfection. If you’re writing a haiku a day and your aim is haiku-ish-ness, good enough will usually do. It usually did. I have papers to grade.
Since August, I’ve been creating a sketchbook for the Sketchbook Project sponsored by the Art House Co-op out of the Brooklyn Art Library. Each of the 28,000 participants received a moleskin notebook to fill, and, in January, those who completed the project will mail their notebooks back to begin the sketchbooks’ tour of the U.S. At each stop, people will look at the boxes and boxes of books, and, each time anyone picks one up, the UPC symbol on its back will be scanned to let the artist know—via email or text—that his or her images have been seen.
I finished my sketchbook last week, and pictures of a few of its pages appear with this post.
My sketchbook isn’t perfect, but it’s different from daily haiku or my weekly post here. “Sketchbook” suggests experimentation, but the thought that strangers might see my art changed my approach. I felt disappointments more keenly and worked harder to rescue pages. I was more ambitious, reviving techniques I’ve long sidestepped as too arduous or time consuming. With the blank pages stretching ahead of me, the project took on gravitas greater than any two page spread, and I thought about variety, transitions, and “voice” in ways I usually don’t.
And making art seemed new. The thudding reality of process is consistency. Especially at first, practice does create progress, but it soon brings comfort and the seductive urge to rehearse or, worse, to act out yesterday’s rehearsal. During the first 365 haiku I learned the personality of the form and how I might interact with it. The last 365 felt featureless, as if daily practice downloaded personality into discreet bits suitable for programming a robot. Why is it harder to explain what haiku is than it was four years ago? Sometimes it seemed haiku had become anything and everything, each reiteration equal and equally forgettable.
It’s not really as bad as that. I’m grateful for haiku’s concision and emphasis on what’s resonant. Tomorrow’s haiku led me to examine today more closely. I like to think those perspectives crept into all my art, and I only need to lose technique to find myself again.
It’s a new year, and I believe in resolutions. Without faith in perfectibility, I couldn’t practice writing or painting. I will keep practicing, but I’d like 2011 to be the year of the project, a time when rehearsal yields to performance, when I train to play. I want to make, show, and publish, starting with a book combining my paintings and my best haiku. Perhaps timidity and fantasies of finding a mentor, editor, manager, agent, or amanuensis have held me back. If you want to volunteer, I’m listening… but hope for more ambitious and reaching art might be a better spur.