• Emily Ott

Process vs. Product

A few weeks ago, I opened a dialogue on Facebook regarding the artist’s process. I noticed that as an creator myself, I often get so wrapped up in making something of substance that I forget to treasure the way I got there. You know the old cliches; “stop and smell the roses” and “life is a journey”. Instead, I can become obsessed with affecting the audience. I want to wow them! When this approach happens, however, the audience misses a crucial component. The steps the artist took to get there. They don’t see the hours of text analysis, the research, the rehearsal, writing and re-writing. I think we hide this part of the creative process because of some underlying factors. To see an artist in process is such a rarity because our society puts so much value on the final image, the end-game, and the product. We don’t tend to celebrate the questions, the mistakes, and the heartbreak that often accompanies the final result. Consumerism is real and I don’t think it excludes influence on art or the artist creating it.

As a result of this mentality, I think that some artists have a hard time even giving themselves the title of “artist”. Elizabeth Gilbert, a best-selling novelist, admitted in a podcast with On-Being that she disliked referring to herself as an artist. I wonder if her process was shared more with her readers she might feel more like an artist, rather than an author who’s job it is to crank out books. Or, maybe she would feel like a sacred barrier had been crossed between the artist and the audience if her process was made public? My friend, Daniel Sullivan, argues that there is a “alluring mysterious quality when the process is unknown that makes art interesting”. As a consumer of art, some would say that being blind to the artist’s process is what actually makes it art! There isn’t a step-by-step manual to it’s making that you can look up on Google. This sense of mystery is maybe what sets art apart from the creation other products, especially those made in factories. Art encompasses a sense of wonder. As Daniel says, “art is supposed to be understood individually and to have different meaning depending on who is consuming it. No explanation should be attached”. I love Daniel’s thoughts on this, because I had never thought about art this way.

Conversely, my friend, Olivia Gambelin, argues that if the process is more well known, the audience will have a greater appreciation and more respect for the art. She says, “When it’s the final product just being consumed, people lose appreciation for the work and effort disappears”. Reflecting on Olivia’s thought, I think that appreciation, whether it be for art or other material goods, should be more widely practiced. I have a feeling it would widely change how we live, eat, socialize, etc. For example, I was talking to a co-worker at Trader Joe’s the other day about food and how it can also be considered artistic in a sense when you consider all the steps it took to get into your stomach. For a mere piece of bread, you must consider the earth that the wheat was grown in, who cut the grain, how it became flour, whose hands kneaded the dough, how long it baked, how it ended up on the grocery store shelf, etc. Try thinking about this for everything you eat and possess including clothing, cars, furniture, or even the painting hanging on your wall. It will make you be a lot more intentional with what you consume/buy and where it comes from. Could you make the argument then that everything can be considered art? I guess it depends who you talk to.

If you were to talk to my friend, John Diaz, he would probably tell you that “we are all art”. I think he’s specifically referring to human beings because we also are always in process and in motion, similarly to the things we create. Is our art an effort to make a physical representation of ourselves to share with the world? I wonder what would happen if we approached our work and our lives without the need to have a product made. Would we will more validated or less so? I think we would feel more validated because if you are consistently working towards a product, inevitability one day you will or will not achieve it. But, what then? There is a danger in my opinion in searching for the destination because once you get there, you will likely loose the drive to keep pushing and learning and growing. Isn’t that the point of it all anyway? Maybe the job of an artist isn’t necessarily to make something concrete, but to ask the questions and lead others to do the same.

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