Every now and then, when I begin to feel restless and aimless in my creative endeavors, I google "social practice." Typically when I do so, I read and re-read articles about socially engaged art projects, social practice as an artistic medium, as well as text about community art and new innovative projects taking place in the field that I might want to know about. I do this to help keep myself up to date on the goings on in the field, but also to keep myself grounded.
The last time I did my search, I stumbled upon a wikipedia article called "Social Practice," but it was about a theory in psychology--not the arts world. Despite searching these terms over and over again in the past, I wondered how I had possibly missed this article. In any case it piqued my interest.
Social practice, as defined in the field of psychology, is a theory that "seeks to determine the link between practice and context within social situations," thereby cultivating a commitment to transformative change between the practitioner and the community/patients that is manifests in the forms of "activity and inquiry."
As I read on, I found that this type of Social Practice in psychology clearly outlined the steps that I had always intuitively taken when embarking on a new community-based art project.
- Social practice as activity: "Social practice involves engagement with communities of interest by creating a practitioner-community relationship wherein there remains a focus on the skills, knowledge, and understanding of people in their private, family, community, and working lives." The idea is to work with "a system of participants [who] work toward an object or goal that brings about some form of change or transformation in the community."
- Social practice as inquiry: "Within research, social practice aims to integrate the individual with his or her surrounding environment while assessing how context and culture relate to common actions and practices of the individual."
In thinking about my own practice, I'm realizing that my community organizing experience has given me a great deal of comfortability with embedding myself in community and building relationships through which I can learn more about the skills, knowledge, worldly outlook, and experiences of the community. However, it is translating this knowledge that I gain and the relationships that I build into collective action that is consistently the most difficult part of my work.
For example, in my residency at Fleisher Art Memorial, I have been able to build trust and consistent presence with the workers at Tweedy's Nail Salon and the owner, Kim, and her family. But every engagement with her oscillates between giving me the impression that we are on the same page about collaborating, to then in the next visit thinking that we are not on the same page. Aunty Kim expresses that language is likely the barrier when we misunderstand each other, which I can understand. However, I often wonder if I am not using language the most effectively too. Am I asking the right questions? Am I framing my desire to collaborate in the right ways? Alternatively, perhaps the collaboration is not a right fit, but it's hard to say.