Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Why Do We Make Art?

In some of my previous posts I have shared reading responses - writings I did while pursuing my MFA. Reading plays a large role in the shaping of my art practice. It helps to solidify my ideas and identify my direction. In other words, I find it inspirational. I also often confess to getting my best ideas in the shower. (I don't know what it is about warm running water - but it's a conduit for my imagination.) Basically, I am always thinking and try to respond to my thoughts in a genuine way.

I was recently asked, “How do you stay fresh and come up with new ideas?” This person might as well have asked me, “Why do you make art?” I found the question difficult to answer. Continually asking “What if?” is just simply how my mind works. So one thing always leads to another. I guess I approach my art practice as I would a puzzle – constantly seeking a solution, yet recognizing that the achievement of the ultimate solution would mean the demise of my art practice. You can imagine that all this seeking can be somewhat frustrating because I never really experience a sense of completion.

So to be an artist is to be in the constant state of frustration of one pondering a puzzle with no hope for an answer. Because our work is really about the process of response – not the response itself. Heck, half the challenge is figuring out what the question is in the first place. The “why” should come before the “how” but sometimes we don’t even know “why” we do something. Often, we have to do it first and then figure it out. (To read more on this idea, take a look at Relying on Process.)

I believe we make art simply because we have to. It is our way of functioning in this world.


Anonymous said...

hello, im an artist as well, i enjoy looking at your work. i live in two worlds, the world of my mind and the physical world, the reason i make art it to try to bring some of the world of my mind into this physical realm we all have in coomon. just thought i'd share :)

MDH said...

Thanks for sharing! I too feel the need to bring the mental and physical experience together - otherwise I'm afraid I'd get lost in my mind. (Is this the same as loosing your mind?) It's good to have a balance - but not always easy to maintain.

Lynn Digby said...

Well, you're probably not going to believe this, but this was what I was thinking about this morning while waiting in line to get my oil changed, I am old and grizzled enough to be absolutely cantankerous about making my art the way I want to make it. This is freeing.

However, there is this dicotomy of artmaking pitting the conceptualists against the process driven. It all comes down to a question of whether it's the journey or the destination that is most important.

Both matter. I do understand the theory of observation leading to interpretation; interpretation leading to shifts in response....yada yada yada. There is much to be said for this process, but in my opinion, to assign process the MEANING of artmaking, is to dismiss the actual art as a by-product. I find that sad and actually, rather preciously self conscious. It's like taking a walk and looking with wonder at our toes, to the detriment of seeing where the hell we're going.

No thank you.

Process is important, but I will never see it as MORE important than the final product. It is this product that will communicate with the eventual viewers. While I hope that my art reaches people in some way, I don't mind in the least that they not really be aware of how it came about. It must stand or fall on its own merits.

That said, I must tell you that when I approach a piece, it is with great deliberation. I KNOW what I want. The agony is in trying to make it give that to me. I am not interested in appearing "original". I am looking at a certain aspect or idea that fires ME. If it has been done before, ok. All I'm saying is that this is what is currently making ME tick. The excitement to me is finding a specific visual vocabulary that can communicate my idea. Period. I don't have or need a large voice. But if only the largest voices ever spoke, it would be a sterile and quiet world. I'd satisfied with saying small things clearly and, I hope, well.

All art is flawed, but I firmly believe if you don't know where you're going, you aren't going to get there.

The process must be subordinate to the product.

Lynn Digby

MDH said...

Hey Lynn, thanks for sharing an alternative point of view. You've raised some good points - but ultimately one of the first questions I receive from buyers is "How did you make this?" They want to know more about my process. And I have to be honest - prior to beginning my Interpretive Landscape series (see post 1/17/07), for example, I never would have been able to sit down and say, "Gee, I think I want to do some gestural abstract watercolor paintings and then scan them at a really high resolution to enlarge my marks many times their original size. Then I'm going to take some pinhole photographs of trees and roots and digitally combine them with my paintings so that elements in one merge with and continue in the other. Hmmm. Yes, then I want to mount the print on panel and coat it with encaustic medium and work the surface with additional gestural marks and oil paint."

I arrived at this unique solution by exploring different mediums and allowing the processes to lead me. Perhaps my background in graphic design (and my urge to move away from it) is responsible - but I find the act of giving up control yields more interesting results.

So while I value your opinion, for me, Process is as equally important as the Product. The Product is the sum of the Process.

Anonymous said...

The product IS of course, the sum of the process. But not a byproduct. It's the reason.

sometimes process is dictated by the natural direction that a piece is suggesting as it evolves. But without any idea of the end result, it's a crap shoot. Even in my deliberate working method, I find times when I drift off course because the piece dictates something I hadn't thought of.

But for me the goal is always to communicate the concept that I set out to do. Realism serves my purposes now, but if my work is just a record of things, I'm a failure.

And as far as your buyers....process is for you. They can ask, but if knowing the process influences the enjoyment or appreciation of the work, it's missing on several levels. The work needs to stand on its own, unadorned by theory, in my opinion.

MDH said...

Hmmm. This is getting good. I agree that concept is also important - and by claiming the importance of process I am in no way disclaiming the importance of concept. Of course I have an idea of what I want to communicate when I start on a piece - but I don't always have a clear idea of how I'm going to communicate it. (And if I do, it usually changes!) That's where process comes in - and I usually make some surprising discoveries along the way. This all goes back to the text in my original post where I talk about feeling frustrated because I never really experience a sense of completion. Everything is always evolving (both what I'm saying and how I'm saying it.)

So while my pieces do stand on their own and communicate with the viewer (without my interpretation) - I see them almost as memories (or physical imprints of acts) because they represent how I was exploring a particular idea at a particular time - an idea that could (and does) manifest itself a different way another time.

Process is for the artist, but I also believe the knowledge of process enriches the viewing experience of a work of art. For it invites the viewer to share your footsteps, for a brief moment, in your journey as an artist.

Anonymous said...

well, I know for me that art just is. Like the trials and tribulations in my life are my inspiration. Almost all the time, unless i'm shooting for a job, the way i am feeling at that time comes through my photograph. I think that if my personality was not so extreme that my work would suffer because my work is me for the most part. And when i'm not shooting I am lost, its my way of expressing myself to the world. Peace........Royia.