Several years ago when I studied Zen, I was shaken by the idea of practice. All my life, I had been taught that we practice with a goal in mind: performance, perfection, personal achievement. In artistic and athletic pursuits, practice is preparation for some future event.
But this is not so in other arenas, particularly the mystic-spiritual. Goals are specifically absent from meditation practice: we do not meditate in order to achieve enlightenment; enlightenment simply comes from the continuous, earnest practice of meditation.
Put in those words, the distinction is fine and grey. But in the words of Shunryu Suzuki, the nature of practice becomes more apparent:
Waves are the practice of the water. To speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves is a delusion. Water and waves are one.
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Water does not make waves to achieve any end game; the two are simply inseparable. One does not exist without the other.
Artistic practice, then, is not something we necessarily do; it is something we cannot bear not to do. It is not even an action we take; just as water makes no effort in forming waves, practice simply springs from us. We are inseparable from the deed of creation.
Isaac Asimov said, "I write for the same reason I breathe -- because if I didn't, I would die." I don't think all artistic practice is as desperate or effortless as that. The earth heaves with each tide, and so do we with each new undertaking. Nevertheless, this practice is decidedly integral to our existence, and a part of ourselves we do well to embrace.