LivingArts: Process and Product

As an artist and as an art educator, there are always questions about process and product.  Which is more important?  Where is each more appropriate – in a classroom, in an exhibition, in the studio?

In a classroom, we often prioritize process – the creative process, the critical analysis process, even the technical process of actually making a thing.  We encourage our students to be bold and brave, to take risks and the final product is only one part of an evaluation.  We want to develop skills, to encourage confidence and creativity.

In an exhibition it is all about the product.  People go to see and perhaps purchase the things that artists have made.  They don’t see the hours of labour, the tears, the victories, the self-doubt that go into the work.  They don’t see the years of training and experience.  What they do see is the end of the line – the results of all of that work and angst in its best form.

Though some may challenge me on this, as a ‘maker-of-things’ I feel like the product is kind of the point.  What is the process without some goal and result?  Classroom activities are graded, parents of kids at camp want something to hang on the fridge, and exhibitions bring work to the eyes and minds of the public.

I’ve realized is that there is a lot of overlap, and these ideas have been on my mind this month as I work with artists planning children’s programming:  we want the young artists to learn new things – to take risks, learn to use new materials and respond to things they have seen. But at the end of the day, we also have to set a goal and purpose for our lessons – the finished artwork can be the start of the lesson plan.  Setting goals means having an end in mind.

In an exhibition, one of the easiest entry points into difficult contemporary art is to talk about how it was made.  It is the process that provides us with the context for understanding the product.  Once a reluctant viewer has found some terms in which to understand some part of the work, they become more receptive to the rest.

In my own studio practice, seeing the ideas in my head come together in a finished artwork affirms and solidifies the illusive feelings of structure, balance and symbolism that are hard to really understand until they have all been finished.  I have found it impossible to separate the two ideas of process and end product in my work, outside of my sketchbook, and I wonder if I have put limitations on my work – growth and change are something I am trying to find, but it is hard to get past the end.