Thursday, 15 May 2014

process, process, process

It occurs to me this morning that one of the things that most disturbs me about 'the art world', or even just 'art' as a general idea, is the obsession with product. Now, before you say, oh, god, here we go, process v. product, yawn, I'm off to make a cup of tea, I would like to pause on this a while. The question, and my at least imagined reactions to it, reminds me of some of my experiences with social science research. If you stopped to ask a few questions about HOW actually people had got to their conclusions about, for example, 'how adults learn' I soon found out that on the whole such questions were dismissed. They appeared to be regarded as being the provenance of the beginning academic, the PhD student, and it seemed to be taken for granted that once you had done your PhD, you didn't have to bother with the (in fact very troublesome and unresolved) questions in this area.

And so it seems to be with art process. Where, in the online groups I belong to, is any kind of discussion about HOW people work? About what blocks them and stuffs them up, about what frees them and helps them reach out beyond what's safe, about what goes on behind the scenes of the 'finished work' which is proudly signed, and posted along with information about how it can be purchased?

Classes and workshops are advertised where 'expert' practitioners offer to guide the less experienced, but where is the exploration of the processes of the experienced professional? For myself, at least, I am really far more interested in how these processes occur than in what they produce.

I think one of the reasons the obsession with product and sales bothers me is that the lack of discussion of process disguises a great deal, and, amongst other things, perpetuates the (culturally-based) illusion that 'there are those that can, and those that can't'. If someone liked the image above, for example, they might think, mmm, like that, wish I could do that, pity I'm not creative. And yet if I actually explained how I produced this image, step by step, anyone in the world could make their own version of it. What interests me is not the perpetuation of some kind of mystery around the production of an image that might create an effect in someone (and whether that effect is 'I like it' or 'that's shite' doesn't matter from this point of view) but to explore the processes by which objects like this appear in the world.  Or are prevented from appearing. I'm interested in this because I believe that the appearance, or otherwise, of such things is vital in terms of both individual and collective health and resilience.

For some reason this idea is connecting in my mind to an article I've just finished reading in the New Scientist, about rampantly developing antibiotic resistance beginning to force people to look back at older approaches and research. An experiment done in the late 60s, for example, which showed that bacteria on a roof which were exposed to moving outside air were almost entirely killed off over a 24 hour period, whereas those kept in an enclosed box on the same roof in the same conditions were all still happily living and developing. Florence Nightingale's light and air-filled wards, compared to today's sealed rooms.

More and more time, money and words are spent discussing the mechanisms and biochemical correlates of physical and psychological/ emotional 'illnesses', but every now and again the research says something like (...the day before yesterday on Radio 4...) 'maybe we just all need more sleep'.

I would suggest that maybe we also all need more time, space, and belief in our capacities to move, dance, sing, draw, paint and play. All of us. Artists, musicians, 'non-artists', 'non-musicians', everyone. The processes involved in these things happening, or not, are what interests me.

Why do you want to get up and dance but stop yourself? What was it like to be you in the four years leading up to the day you completed that painting, which happens to have just sold? The questions are the same for everyone, in my book. I'm happy if you just sold a painting, but I'm much more interested in why all of your paintings look like versions of the same thing (and of course I'm not exempt from this observation), despite the fact that you've been painting for years. What's going on behind your scenes that stops you from taking a greater risk; from risking yourself in the world in a new way?



  1. Wow; this post hit me at just the right moment - so thanks!



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