“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”- Stephen McCranie
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés talks about practice in her book "The Creative Fire: Myths and Stories on the Cycles of Creativity". She reveals to the readers the dirty secret of many creative people: she has written thousands upon thousands of pages of stories, poems, thoughts, etc. Out of those, many should never be read by a living person. They are that horrible. But it is through those pages, that an artist practices her skills - sharpens her pencil, so to speak - and every so often, is able to create a gem - a story that will be told and retold a hundred times, published and read many more.
These reflections on creativity brought me to think about my own craft. It is one of the hardest thing to teach, yet twice a year students from all over the place gather at my studio for a week, and try their hands at the art of perfumery. I have witnessed countless blending sessions in which students got easily frustrated, or were even angry at themselves for producing something "disgusting" (although I have a strict rule about not using such strong words in those sessions, they sometimes just come out of their mouths) or making a tiny mistake that they worried will never be fixed. As I accompany them on those little expeditions of perfume making, I can't help but remember my moments of frustration at the bench. Too much of this, or too little of that. Being hang-up on a concept or a vision, and not following what I smell. So what if the starting point was ingredient X, and now you're inclined to abandon it altogether for another exciting combination that popped along the way? This is all part of practice, part of learning - which eventually will create something beautiful that you'd like to dab on any other person on the street.
In the past couple of years, I've been immersed more deeply in the practice of movement - namely Pilates and Middle Eastern dance - both requiring hours of practice. Exercising the muscles and learning the choreography or the movements is only a small part of it. Feeling, sensing, experiencing the moves, the dance and the breath - that's the core of "practice" and of the art itself. I recalled the hours spent at the piano, going over and over a single bar in a particular movement in a Beethoven sonata. Re-connecting with the emotions that this particular part brings; re-experieincing the sensations of the tips of my fingers on the keyboard. This takes time, which of course we eventually run out of; but it's also part of the art - whether of not there is an audience to it. The practice it not just the concert or the dance performance. It's the actual dancing, playing or singing, wherever and whenever it takes place. And thankfully int these art forms - you don't run out of materials, just grow old with them...
Which brings me to another quote by a famous cartoonist: "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep"(Scott Adams). For creativity to happen, one needs time, practice and a nurturing, non-judgemental environment. To produce art, all of this needs to happen as well; but then also have the editor's eye that will select which of those bursts of creativity will have a lasting meaning in the context of that particular piece of art. Which ones are relevant, which ones flow and tell a story - and which ones are best left out, either because they reveal more than needed to the story; or perhaps they belong to another.
It's a very similar process with perfume-creation, and like any creative process - it takes time, energy, work, and also will eat up materials of varying costs. You'll have to produce dozens of unacceptable stench, mediocre concoctions, and some that are perhaps great as an expression of your emotions but not really fit to expose other noses to. And there is a certain amount of cultivation that needs to take place - preparing the soil so to speak, for the creation to emerge. This can sometime take a few years, or even a lifetime (as is evident in the life story of Mrs. Mary Delaney, who created a new art form (mixed-media collages) and a massive body of work at the ripe age of 72, which is beautifully interpreted in Molly Peacock's book "The Paper Garden".