Thoughts on process

Waiting for the late train

I’ve been thinking about the ideas of process and whether it is important to the art that we make, and particularly in the context of the, seemingly, commonly held and vocalised (or at list written on the web) view that it’s all about the picture and that nothing else matters. This already made me uneasy in the sense that it feels as though the end justifies any means to get there. There is already plenty of evidence that misleading images are displayed in all areas of the broad church of photography. Whilst it is obvious that advertising photography has no connection with reality – children do not expect to grow up to look like the retouched mannquins please – there is a more pervasive issue here, I think. We are surrounded by landscape and other genres of photography, much of it very beautiful and technically excellent, that is somehow dishonest in what it portrays. Now, I am not against manipulation and am not able to draw a line, but I have an increasing sense of unease with some of the results I am seeing championed by the gurus.

One tenet of this approach is that nothing matters but the image, and one of the things that doesn’t matter is process. For a while I bought into this argument, but somehow it has never quite sat comfortably with me. Now I find myself shooting a lot of 35mm film and being delighted with what I am getting – in all the imperfection that I could easily avoid with my digital equipment. It’s much harder work in some ways too – scanning is time consuming and needs to be worthwhile – but I am thoroughly enjoying the process. This of course should be irrelevant if the argument above is sound, and I am deluding myself for considering how I make a print to be important (similarly, I am probably deluded in thinking that there is some form of integrity that should be applied when making a print…).

BUT, I was talking with an artist the other day – a printmaker – who works with various approaches and she commented that she enjoys process and that it is important to her in making her art. Then talking to other artists in the group, it becomes apparent that process is important to each of them. In part this is because of what the process offers them and how that fits with their interests at the time and partly it is just the pleasure they get from creating in a certain way and with certain materials. – I spent some time sculpting and enjoyed working with the clay. Thinking about this I have come to believe that process is, or can be, important to art and that to deny this is both mistaken and actually a negative approach.

We live in a world where business is increasingly about efficiency and productivity. Being efficient and productive is best done by machines, and if we want people to be efficient and productive then we must persuade them to behave like machines at some level. Of course we are not machines, but living vibrant beings with spirit and emotions, which is why we make and enjoy art at all. I wonder if a part of being human is the connection back to the earth from which we are made, and in that light perhaps process is a central part of art and not just a means to an end. With this thought, perhaps the end result of the ‘image is all’ approach is dehumanising rather than uplifting – certainly I commented above on the ‘dishonesty’ in what is sometimes portrayed, which I consider to be dehumanising – and we need as individuals to step away from the ongoing pursuit of efficiency, the constand need to upgrade in our quest for perfection and choose a deliberate step back towards a less efficient and perfect approach, where we enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

For me at the moment that photographic is largely, but not exclusively, 35mm film. Your answer may be different, but make sure that you enjoy the process because the journey can be a long one…

Mike

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3 Responses to “Thoughts on process”

  1. There isn’t an answer to this, I don’t think. Malcolm Gladwell writes about this–there can be a 50 year old man who writes a genius novel over 10 years and a 21 year old who just busts it out in 3 months. One would think that the man who spend more time and has lived a fuller life would write a better novel, but this isn’t necessarily the case. There’s simply no answer. Just the fact of mulling over a piece of art, putting in the hours, and coming close to perfection in one’s own mind can mean little in the eyes of other people who only see the result. However, it’s a positive experience for the individual, I think.

    So yeah, in the end it’s just the image for the rest of the world, but the rest of the world shouldnt matter–it’s you that matters and for that, the process is a really important. Well, in my opinion anyway.

  2. If you google ‘art is a verb’ you’ll find some interesting stuff related to this on Paul Butzi’s site.

  3. Colin

    Thanks for that tip-off. I hadn’t run across allof Paul’s thoughts on this before.

    Mike

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