Product or Process as Purpose in Art?
At the end of last weeks post I mentioned ‘process not product’ so thought that this week I would expand on what I mean by this. It goes back to my first post One for the Earning One for the Learning. In simple terms it is about painting or drawing and starting out with the intention to produce a finished piece that will be put in a frame and exhibited or painting/drawing to explore a theme, subject, medium style or technique.
The nearest analogy I can give is from my horse riding competition days. Some days, when preparing for an upcoming competition, I would work on specific movements or sequences for a set dressage test. The same would apply for the competition warm up and test riding itself. Other times, I would work more intuitively. I might have a rough idea or plan when I went into the manege but would work on what felt instinctively right to do at that moment, based on my feelings and the feedback or “conversation” I was having with my horse. These were the days when we could get to the next level and hopefully then later translate that to test riding. The ‘product’ was not the purpose and it was the process, the journey, the learning that was more important. Most (certainly amateur/leisure) riders will bemoan the fact that they never ride as well, or the horse never goes as well in a test situation as they do at home or even in the warm up. In fact, when I changed my attitude to test riding and focused less on winning rosettes and more on where we were together in our training is when we DID start to take home red and blue ribbons. Focusing on the product produced a stilted outcome that tried too hard, often created tension and was nowhere near getting ‘in the zone’ where everything else falls away, every step is felt and the bond and communication between my horse and I became effortless and expressive.
This all goes back to my chorus themes (in horse riding as well as in art) “ever learning” and “practice, patience and persistence” (though it must be said imperfect practice just makes us perfectly imperfect). It is a tricky balance to achieve. As a working artist, I must produce commissions and work that I can sell (product) so that I can live and pay my bills, but conversely my best work, and the paintings that actually tend to sell quickest are usually the ones where I have been focused on process and have been able to lose myself in it.
Some things: life drawing, my sketchbook, plein air and preparatory work are all entirely process for me. I have often been asked if I would sell a sketchbook (I never have). I have offered some life drawing for sale, but only the one or two (out of hundreds) that I am genuinely proud of. I certainly don’t go to life class even vaguely entertaining the idea of producing something to frame and/or exhibit as I find that inhibits my process.
As with schooling horses, to focus purely on product or financial considerations leads to taking shortcuts, rushing the gymnastic development and forcing lines, shapes, movements and paces or working in a formulaic way. That is physically and mentally destructive for the horse, the rider, the artist and the Art.