01: What is Practice?

Welcome to MEDA301

[Tanaka Tatsuya, 2.13 Computer Virus, https://www.instagram.com/tanaka_tatsuya/]

In week 1, we will take an overview of the subject: what will we be doing; how will we be doing it, and why are we doing it.

We begin with the question: What is Practice?

Subject overview

People you will see:

  • Subject coordinator: Aaron Burton
  • Lecturer/ Tutor: Aaron Burton, Mat Wall-Smith
  • Technical Officer: Glenn Alexander

How it works

Lecture/ Seminar:

  • Presentation of ideas
  • Raising questions
  • Discussions
  • Critique


  • Evolution of ideas through research, investigation and experimentation
  • Exercises to guide you to think and work through the ideas and questions raised through discussions
  • Research includes: historical, theoretical, material, technical
  • Working/ workshopping

Online Modules:

  • Additional topic material
  • Blog development activities
  • Archived subject content

Research and development

Iterative process is central to MEDA subjects. We see your personal learning blog/ process journal as documentation of your journey in learning that can be shared.We encourage all students in MEDA subjects to start personal process blogs from 100 level as a place to document and present works. If you take this on seriously, it will become a valuable resource for you.

You should be using an existing blog as you have previously for MEDA301 and 302 – don’t start all over again! You will see in the Assessment outlines of this subject that your assignments will have components that are to be presented on your blogs.

All MEDA300 level student blogs are be organised into a Student Blog Directory page. Please post your blog address with your full name and a one-sentence blurb about yourself with a comment to this page.

Subject Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this subject, students will be able to:

  1. Develop research literacies in both scholarly and practical aspects of Media Arts practice
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of the broader context of Media Arts practice and a capacity to develop creative projects in this field
  3. Conduct a viable process of experimentation in an identified field of Media Arts practice

But how?

Assessment 1: Practice Development Project

This is where we start.

So what do we mean by “PRACTICE”?

Practise is a verb.
Practice is also a noun.

Practice as a Thing

Sigh (still) 2008 Sam Taylor-Wood Duration: 8 minutes 37 seconds 8 screen projection

This is from an exhibition Yes| No (2008) by Sam Taylor-Wood (aka Sam Taylor Johnson) where a group of musicians from the BBC Orchestra for the work play ‘air instruments’.

Find out more the process and ideas about the work here.

The noun ‘practice’ can be used to denote ‘the things a group of people do’, as in:

  • Cultural practice
  • Professional practice
  • Best practice
  • Code of practice

In this usage, this thing that people do as a group is usually governed by a set of defined codes.

  • What may these codes be for the musicians in Taylor-Wood’s work?
  • How may these codes help the musicians play ‘air instruments’?
  • What do these codes or rules do in say professional practice?
  • Why are they there?
What about Theory?

What is theory?

  • Does theory describes practice? Can you think of an example?
  • Is theory derived from practice? Can you think of an example?
  • Does theory prescribe practice? Can you think of an example?

People often say ‘in theory, but in practice…’ What separate the two realms of activities in this usage?

In the following examples, how do these theories relate to practice?

  • E = mc2
  • colour theory
  • harmonics
  • the paleo diet

How about in your creative work, how do these two arenas interact in your processes?

Whether you know it or not, you often relate these different ways of doing/ thinking/ feeling when you engage in the creative process. Can you think of some examples when you:

  • are getting a feel for what you are doing?
  • have to think about what you have done in order to process with a work?
  • have to think about what others have done in order to think about what may be possible?
  • having to work through materials physically in order to think about how things work?

In Media Arts, we are interested in the ‘why’: why we do things one way rather than another? – not just how?

The Doing of Practice

from Irving Penn's Small Trades series (1950)

from Irving Penn’s Small Trades series (1950)

Wikipedia’s definition:

‘A practitioner is someone who engages in an occupation, profession, religion, or way of life.’

This doing defines the person who does the thing into a –ist, an –er.

By practising, one becomes a practitioner. What role does time play in this transformation?

from Irving Penn's Small Trades series (1950)

from Irving Penn’s Small Trades series (1950)

For example:

  • How long do you have to be learning the violin for you to call yourself a violinist?
  • Conversely, how long would you need to NOT do something before you would stop defining yourself as the practitioner of a thing?
  • What does it mean to be ‘out of practice’?
  • Can there be a non-practising practitioner?
  • What do you call yourself?
Practice makes Perfect

The role that time plays in practice is the duration in which we train our brains, our bodies, our minds etc. to gain the necessary skills and knowledge, which we later continue to refine.

Scientific research has come up with a figure of 10,000 hours as the length of practice that would take for a practitioner to become a world class expert. That’s 3 hours a day for 10 years.

Listen to this (from 03.57 – 06:54):


It is not difficult to see how improvement or refinement can occur through practice when you notice how the physicality of practising skills are enforced through iterative physiological and neurological processes. We can agree that time is the key part of this. The idea of deep practice also gives us a framework to think about how this practising (doing something everyday) should occur – at the cusp of learning, deep concentration etc.

So how do we put all this in practice?

Assessment task 2: Critical Analysis


Trochoidal motion model ship made by Lawrence Hargrave, 1883, MAAS Collection

Trochoidal motion model ship made by Lawrence Hargrave, 1883, MAAS Collection

In week 4, we will go on an excursion to visit the 21st Biennale of Sydney – Superposition.

This is a chance for you think, feel, and do in response to existing art works, designed objects, processes and technological imaginations. This will be practising your research skills – not only finding out about the ‘how’ or the ‘why’ but applying this knowledge to your practice.

Find out more about the exhibition at https://www.biennaleofsydney.art/



Assessment task 3: Media Arts Project

In the final assessment of the subject, you will be putting all this in practice together! From week 7 on we will be workshopping ideas, materials, and media that you want to explore as projects. You will spending time researching and developing these ideas, experimenting with material and media in the second half of session.


WORKSHOP: What is your practice?

G H Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology 1940

G H Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology 1940

The British Mathematician G.H. Hardy wrote an essay A Mathematician’s Apology in which he explored the field of pure mathematics. He defined the practice of mathematics as follows:

A chess problem is genuine mathematics, but it is in some way “trivial” mathematics. However, ingenious and intricate, however original and surprising the moves, there is something essential lacking. Chess problems are unimportant. The best mathematics is serious as well as beautiful—“important” if you like, but the word is very ambiguous, and “serious” expresses what I mean much better.

Copy this quote, but substitute the following words ‘mathematics’ with ‘creative practice’, and ‘chess problem’ with what you think is genuine creative practice by may be ‘trivial’.

Six and a Half Questions | Baden Pailthorpe

Read the above interview with Sydney-based media artist Baden Pailthorpe about his new video work Alt-Right Arabesque (2016) . What is serious or significant about this work despite the appearance of a certain triviality? What he is trying to do with this work? What approaches did he take?

Figuring out your practice

Beginning by sketching out the following:

  • Do you see yourself or your learning situate in an existing field? (e.g. communication and media studies, creative practice, screen or moving image, media arts etc.).
  • Write down some key words that describe this field, actions or tasks related to this field (e.g. Image-making, material investigation, social media, research etc.).
  • Circle the activities, tasks, or keywords that interest you or you identify as avenues you would like to pursue.
  • Look through the projects that you created in the past (academic or outside of university), find one that interests you the most. Describe the project in one or two sentences.
    Write down some keywords about the project: ideas explored, actions taken, or skills learnt.
  • Circle the aspects that you enjoyed most or would like to pursue.
  • Write down five of the most important skills and knowledge that you consider vital to your learning in your field of practice.
  • Circle the skills/ knowledge that you would like to pursue the most.
  • Scan/ photograph and upload to your blog and share.
Analysis: Iterative process

Iterations can change the way we think/ feel/do things. Iteration is not simply repetition. The output of each iteration goes into the next input of the process, so the result of each iteration is not the same. Through an iterative process, the way we see, feel, and think change physiologically, physically, and conceptually.

Have a look at the following ‘projects’ involve regular practice. These works are produce through iterative processes – most use blogging or social mdia as a platform or medium to reflect on the process, which is then fed back into subsequent task. Each of these fragments are also shared and invite others to participate.

[Wayne Wang and Paul Auster, Smoke, 1995] Note: This is a scenario in a film narrative rather than an actual project, but the character’s project still presents an interesting case study.


Tanaka Tatsuya, 2.11 Hiking, https://www.instagram.com/tanaka_tatsuya/

Fiona Wilson, 365 prints, http://fiona-wilson.blogspot.com.au/

[Barbara Campbell, 1001 Nights Cast, 2005-8]

[Lucas Ihlein, Bon Scott Blog, 2008]

Choose 1 ‘project’ and examine it in depth. Answer the following questions:

  • How does each iteration feedback into the process?
  • Can you detect changes that occur during the span of time?
  • Is the process reflective in some way? If so, what kind of reflection occurs?
  • What is the final work?

How are you going to practise?

Think of an example where you have learnt a skill from scratch:

  • How often do you to practise?
  • What does your practice session consist of?
  • What happen during each practice session?
  • How would you gauge whether you are improving?
  • What happens physically when you stop practising?

These daily practices occur within structures that simultaneously allow and restrict, this is what we call enabling constraints.

The structures are often established with simple parameters that restrict the activity to a medium, designate the time of day or duration of the activity or project, or specify other processes such as how to document or present the activity.

These constraints however also allow possibilities such as the variation in the methods. In fact they enable the generation of new possibilities. In the example you analysed above:

  • What are the enabling constraints?
  • What do they restrict?
  • How do they generate new possibilities?

In your study this year, how will you deepen your chosen field of practice? How would regular practice help you develop your skills? What would this form of regular practice looks like?

If you want to take the opportunity to learn/ deepen your knowledge of a particular software skill, completing ‘tutorials’ may be part of this process, but always ask ‘why’ e.g. why do it this way rather than another way? It is also advisable that you give your structure a ‘maker’ focus, that is: you make something with the skills you are learning however small that something may be (think back to some of the examples we discuss), rather than simply go through instructions.

Begin your Practise Development project

Read the project outline: what are you required to do? What is the project rationale (why are you doing this project)? How will the project be assessed?

Working back from the assessment criteria, think about how would approach each week’s questions?With your ‘practice map’, begin to narrow down your field.

  • From the notes you have made, try to narrow down to a single field of practice. If you can’t, write down 5 keywords that the field may encompass.
  • Research what kind of knowledge, skills, and works this field commonly encompass. For example, are there sub-fields within this practice that require different expertise? If so, what are they?
  • Is this an emergent field? Or perhaps doesn’t quiet exist yet?
  • Describe this field in 100 words.
  • Are there some well-known practitioners/ works/ results in this field?
  • What practices are involved in this field? Do practitioners work in groups or individually? What are the processes involved in these practices?
  • Write a 400 – 500 word entry and include relevant illustrations with appropriate credit/ attributions and references.

Over to you

  • Log into your personal learning blog/ online process journal and create a new category for this subject, or if you don’t have a blog, start a new one.
  • Put all your notes, analyses etc. from class into an entry as well as your week 1 entry for Assessment 1.
  • Write a short one-sentence blurb about yourself (the field you see yourself in or the area of knowledge you would like to pursue).
  • Copy the address and together with your name and your statement – place this in comment to the Student Blogs Directory page.

Tasks – what you need to before next week’s class:

  • Read the subject outline
  • Read all assessment outlines
  • Activate your personal process blog and provide the link to the subject blog
  • Begin week 1 of Assessment 1.

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