Monday, January 4, 2016

Process, Product and Practice

I've been thinking a lot lately about practice and how it relates to process and product in art making. My training as an art therapist focuses on the gifts to be found in the process.  To say it's about the process and not the product frees the maker to explore, to express and not to worry about making "Art."
I am interested in ways that practice can hold space for art making to be about the process.  This practice includes habits, routines, and even the discipline necessary to frame a space for making.
Habits and routines help participants to feel a sense of agency.  A friend of mine described it as the shift from a student asking the teacher, "can I?" to asking "how can I?"  The first question asks permission, the second question is looking for guidance in using materials to achieve a personal vision.
The focus on practice is what allows participants to own and reflect on their process.  Part of practice is just showing up and being willing to try.  It takes courage to show up and it takes consistent showing up to build a practice.
My favorite definition of discipline comes from John Cage, "...discipline conceived as a means of sobering and quieting the mind, freeing that mind from its likes and dislikes, taste and memory, making it subject to the Mind outside it."  Practice connects us to community, to other practitioners, to a sense of tapping into a source beyond the self.
When focused on practice, people may make things but the real product is in the inner life of the maker - the reflections, insights and felt states of being.  At the same time, the objects made often deepen and evolve in ways that are surprising even to the maker.  It shifts from an act of imposing will on materials to conversing with them.
Madeline L'Engle writes, "When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens." Creative practice is about building the relationship between the art maker and the materials and process so that when the work is ready to speak the artist is ready to listen. 

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