Recently I was asked to write an essay about process. My initial reaction was panic: I can’t do this I thought. I had to rewrite my process essay for my professor something like three or four times and I still got a C. I struggled. The first essay was a load of crap but I managed to rewrite it and I must say, I’m pretty proud of it. I would love to hear your thoughts.
A Process of Becoming
There are three tiers in an artist’s career: emerging, mid and professional. Having finished my MFA just over a year ago, I am an entry-level artist, one who is struggling to survive. Although I have been published a few times, received grant money and have been in some shows, from this vantage point, I can see that I have a very long way to go before I am a stable professional. This, it seems, is the moment in time that either makes or breaks an artist. It’s survival of the fittest, when everything feels like its rigged: in order to secure a gallery you have to exhibit; exhibition invitations depend upon a strong professional network; securing good relationships with connected colleagues requires residency attendance; the ability to attend residencies requires time, which means quitting your job, right? So how do you afford to make new artwork? Screw the work, how do you afford to eat food?!? It is this moment (I’m guessing) when most artists die off, give up, realizing that everyone around them was right: it IS just a hobby, trade in their full time studio for a full time job to eat real food and not worry about the next rent payment. It is this pivotal moment in time where an artist’s practice saves them from the death of their art career.
What exactly is a practice? I remember being in graduate school at the Savannah College of Art and Design and working with New York painter Paul Bloodgood who said he wasn’t worried about me because I had a strong practice. When he said that I thought, what does he mean by a strong practice? The more I thought about it I realized that he was referring to the numbers of hours I spent in the studio regardless of what I was working on. I had an internal need to work in my art space, to tinker, to create problems and discover solutions, to make a mess. My dedication to my practice was dependent on my process of working. Process: another abstract, career-based word that I have struggled to define for myself.
An artistic practice is an action that depicts an artist’s process. These two actions are similar and relate to one another and yet they are not the same. They are words that signify how an artist develops a cohesive body of work. Process is way of working. It is similar to a scientific hypothesis whereas practice correlates to the scientific method. All of these working structures are developed to create proofs that enhance a presented idea and give it credibility. This is the “on paper” definition of process and only part of me believes it.
I understand process to be intuitive, a big no-no in the academic art world. According to academia, an artist should at all times know why they are doing what they are doing. Intuition weakens the intention, which cheapens the work. The artist in me calls bullshit on academia. Intuition is what got artists into the mess of needing to work in the first place because a true artist has to make work and feels lost or sick without it. Therefore process is the way in which an artist develops their signature style, something that is created through replication. It starts with an idea or a need to see an idea materialized. Often that idea is abstract such as my need to make space tangible.
I am a site-responsive artist. My process involves the use of simple, temporary materials that evolve into sculptural work that largely depends on a moment in time. With twine and often blacklight, I make three-dimensional drawings to emphasize obscured elements within recognizable objects and correlate the symbolic with lived experience. My work is multi-sensory and requests participatory involvement: lines expand and contract in space in a visually manipulative manner to engulf the visual senses. I create a kinetic and relational art experience that reawakens for a moment the simple intrigue of looking and encourages the appreciation of spaces for what they are while also examining their hidden meanings. Inspired by both interior and exterior spaces, I look for sites where nature has been permeated by manufactured elements or ways in which structures can communicate certain particulars about the current human condition. Both natural and synthetic light is used as a drawing medium to bring my sculptural installations to life, the lines becoming ethereal elements that establish otherworldliness and invoke curiosity as they expand and contract in space.
My process of working grew out my daily practice: I work everyday. Often the work is simply sitting in front of the computer, researching grant and proposal opportunities, searching for the money that will become my income and allow me to build a new body of work. At times my work has become a hypothetical presentation of ideas: this is what I will create if given the time, space and money. It has forced my mind to work in a different way. I have learned how to write and sell the idea before it has even been realized. My need to maintain a studio practice has also augmented my process. These days I travel a lot to and from residencies. This is an expensive evocation one that is difficult to fund without fulltime employment. The use of string grew out of my need to make large works of art on a very tight budget.
I am an emerging artist. I understand this to mean a process of becoming. Everyday I wake up, sit at my desk and look at my list of upcoming deadlines. I work down the list, cross off the completed proposal/application/research subject and move on to the next. Often I divide the day in half: mornings are spent writing whereas afternoons and evenings are spent making. It is never ending: the writing influences the making and visa versa. I often tell people that I do all of this so I can afford to eat food but I have come to understand that this is my process for figuring things out, strategizing and progressing into the role of a mid-career artist, one step at a time all the way to the top of the professional mountain.