“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”
The extraordinary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham spent a lifetime exploring her own creativity and sharing it on stage, boldly and with abandon. She once described the creative process as a mixture of terror and joy. I think anyone who aspires to express themselves fully and honestly knows what she means about these two aspects of creativity — and the artistic sparks the friction between them can set aflame.
Why terror? I think what Martha might have meant is that we fear that we will never be able to adequately bring to life the thing we envision: there will always be a gap between our vision — the ideal version of what we aspire to express — and the reality that we are able to conjure up through words or dance or oil on canvass. We chase perfection even as we fear it lies beyond our powers.
And the joy? Ah, the joy! This flows from the creative process itself — the self-dissolving freedom of engagement in artistic pursuit. When we throw ourselves into the act of creating, we lose all sense of time and space: our self-imposed limitations fall away. In these moments we know that we are in the right place at the right time doing what we are meant to be doing.
To find the joy, we need to accept the terror: the fears that come with attempting anything in which we over-reach ourselves. And to experience the joy, I think we need to do exactly what Martha advises us to: we need to keep practicing “some act of vision, of faith, of desire” again and again, without worrying about the end result. “Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” Surely, these are wise words — and how freeing! We don’t have to seek, chase, or achieve perfection. All we have to do is do our work with joy and invite perfection to join us.