Theme: Practices Toward a Future

How might spirituality intersect with our understanding and experience of practice? What can be illuminated about architecture, culture, and spirituality by training a lens on the many practices that nourish these spheres? Might such potential intersections guide architects, artists, and designers toward new ways of thinking and acting and ultimately to a more constructive and hopeful future?

The word practice has complex implications and a wide range of meanings: it suggests application as opposed to theory, repeated exercise so as to acquire or maintain skill, or the performance of habitual or regular activities, methods, or customs. Practice also refers to a central component of any religious or spiritual commitment, and to the many processes embedded in education, artistic production, and the design professions. Practice implies orderly commitment to doing something in the hope of improving, and the idea of a possible and more hopeful future. Practice is forward thinking.

Practices vary across cultures, disciplines, and professions. They can come into conflict, be in difficult yet fruitful conversation, or be integrated into a comprehensive worldview. Practices, if they are to endure, must live beyond individual experience. Practices form and express identities, support social movements, provide community accountability, and give lasting significance to the shared values of humanity.

Practices develop and change—over time and within historical contexts. The title, Practices Toward a Future, is also meant to suggest a sense of urgency about the present moment that calls attention to how we practice our spirituality, our daily lives, our professional lives, our lives as citizens, writers, artists, architects, designers, scholars, and educators. In a world increasingly threatened by global warming, the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism, weakening societal and governmental institutions, disintegrating civic discourse, and mistrust of scientific evidence, we cannot take any future for granted, let alone one that will be desirable. Can spiritual, cultural, and artistic practices embody a shared hope in a brighter future? If so, how can such practices also nourish that hope toward real growth in human and global well-being? And how might a better understanding of practice in relation to spirituality bring new meaning and greater relevance to the creative disciplines?

In reflecting on these questions, we draw inspiration from the words of Frank Lloyd Wright and art historian Otto Antonia Graf, who thought deeply about the nature of practice:

Growth, our best hope, consists in understanding at last what other civilizations have only known about and left to us, ourselves comforted meantime by the realization that all one does either for or against Truth serves it equally well. Frank Lloyd Wright, "A Testament," 1957 [1]

Art is the archetype of the body’s impulse to live and to love: it is a thoroughly erotic activity which girds mankind about with walls, arches and all manner of objects. Art is a process whereby their potential becomes actual and the creativity of mankind makes the world take shape. Man does not live in nature: nature lives (and dies) in culture. This is what Wright meant by growth. Otto Antonia Graf [2]

If the practice of an art form leads to individual growth—to the gaining of personal aesthetic insight—how can this kind of introspective and deeply personal practice also lead to the construction of a collective future, of a better way of living together not only as human beings but as creatures within a broader natural environment? Many contemplative practices realize the limitations of human knowledge and power, honoring an irreducible mystery at the root of or beyond the heights of cultural achievement. How may such practices nurture fruitful collaborations, transcend conflicting viewpoints, or otherwise encourage more beneficial ways of working toward a better future?

Against the backdrop of the Cold War, Wright spoke of practice in a 1957 interview in terms of freedom and security, in words that have a particular prescience and a renewed relevance today. Wright said, "The condition of freedom is a developed conscience. You can’t be free until you have it because you’ll be afraid. [A person] is afraid until they have developed the certainty that comes of a creative life by way of art, religion, and science. The real body of the universe is spiritual and the real body of the life that we live is spiritual. . . . Until (a person) makes something of the self by way of the spirit and becomes spiritually aware they are not created. They can’t be. Until science and art and religion are more or less one we are not going to be safe." Wright’s belief is an inspiring argument for the integration of work practices through spiritual practices, and an inspiring vision for ACSF. [3]

For ACSF12, we are interested in practice in all its dimensions: practices of architecture, landscape, art, spirituality, religion, research, and education. We understand practice resides on a more pragmatic plane, that of everyday work, of actions and activities in the physical world, but we might ask how the spiritual values of a designer inflect his or her different kinds of practices. While practice implies working at something over time in order to improve, conventions of professional practice can conserve value yet can also result in unquestioned habits that dampen creativity. “Critical” or “reflective” practice seeks to orient a traditional sense of what works toward the ever-changing horizon of what requires questioning, reforming, revising. How do these or other models of practice benefit the work we do?

In response to this theme,  Practices Toward a Future, we received a remarkable group of papers, projects, panels, and workshops  that will foster a robust interdisciplinary dialogue among teachers, artists, scholars, designers, theoreticians, and all kinds of practitioners.

 

References
[1] Qtd. in Otto Antonia Graf, “Instructions from Imhotep? WW—Wagner from Vienna and Wright from Chicago,” translated by David Britt, in Frank Lloyd Wright: Architectural Drawings and Decorative Art: 27 June–30 August, 1985, edited by Otto Antonia Graf, David A. Hanks, and Jennifer Toher (London: Fischer, 1985), n.p.
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://www.openculture.com/2013/05/frank_lloyd_wright_reflects_on_creativity_nature_and_religion_in_rare_1957_audio.html (accessed May 27, 2022)