On the Aims of the Artistic Process
Recently, I had a tense conversation with a successful writer regarding his work-in-progress. The interaction was strained because we were discussing separate, albeit connected, topics. He was explaining his work in particular. I was (re)discovering an unformed idea of the artistic process, using his work as example. Luckily, his uncanny gentility allowed for my thoughtless blather. A few days later I discovered what I had endeavored, and completely failed, to elucidate at the time: the artistic process should aim to intertwine the artist’s thematic, theoretical, and story interests. The successful and seamless integration of these interests fashions optimal artwork.
By definition artists have theories or queries about the world. The exploration of their “interests” is the basis for creating artistic works. Most of these “interests” or “concerns” are further categorized into “private” and “public.”
Acknowledgement of theme is an artistic ability that not all amateur artists initially grasp. Thematic Interest is an all-encompassing theory or perspective of or about the world translated into an artistic work. To recognize a Thematic Interest is tantamount to self-awareness. Even more complicated is attending to Thematic Interest — the molding of the concern. Theme arises from the questioning, the seeking; the ideas we aim to prove or disprove, or, at the very least, usher into discussion. It is the underbelly of the material.
Personal theories, inherited beliefs, long-embedded perspectives, the lens through which they view existence determine the artist’s private Thematic Interests. Some artists continually return to these interests in their works. The return is not, necessarily, a repeated exploration of the same question or idea, rather a new inquiry regarded through their personal thematic lens.
The other version of an artist’s Thematic Interests are those reaped from the public sphere. These interests may arise from an external event: the death of a loved one, current events, the zeitgeist. Any external circumstance that peak an artist’s curiosity fall into this sub-group.
Most often, the private and public thematic interests are symbiotic.
Technical Interest may have the greatest divide between the private and public sides. Possibly because this is an area that is either extremely internalized or aggressively externalized; personal reflection versus terroristic blasting of the artistic medium. A Technical Interest is the decisive approach and conscious aim of one or more elements of the artistic method. An artist’s decision to attend to their personal process and/or the medium’s predetermined method.
As a course of artistry, the practitioner endeavors to better their work and process. By nature artists are self-critical, add audience reaction and inherent narcissism, and it’s impossible not to be self-reflective about one’s work – especially failures. Perhaps the dialogue could be more realistic or more stylized; maybe metaphors or sentence structure need honing. The bettering of one’s (excuse my use of my least favorite word) craft is the private Technical Interest.
The public aspect of Technical Interest would be a thoughtful addressing of the medium itself. Part of the artist’s responsibility is to advance, question and/or explode their medium. This is not the norm and is mostly seen in the avant-garde wings of artistic practice. Some experiments in form are small and subtle, a whisper among whispers in the grander conversation. Others are so bold they break down doors, assault the audience and spit in their faces on the way out. Both experimentation styles are necessary, because it is artists’ duty to question, stretch, attack, undermine and progress their medium. Shirking responsibility to their chosen form, artists’ risk the obsolescence of their medium.
Story Interest is really no more than the overarching elements of work: situation, plot, character, time period, location, conflict, etcetera. This interest is the only one that does not differentiate between private and public. By definition it is public: the “text” to the Thematic and Theoretical Interests’ “subtext.” In other terms, the Story Interest is the audience’s entrance into the Thematic and Theoretical Interests.
Ideally, all three interests are engaged during the artistic process — moreover, they structure the process. I cannot come up with a reason for how or when they are approached. It matters little whether one decides on a Story Interest before the Thematic Interest or the Theoretical Interest before or after the Story Interest. This I leave to the individual artist. The only key to this approach is for them all to logically relate, infallibly link, and enhance the others.
When artists discuss potential decisions for their piece, my first question is “does it make sense with the established work, and, if not, are you willing to alter the existing work for the idea, so they do align?”
The cleanest example I currently have for this artistic aim is Cory Arcangel’s piece “Super Mario Clouds.” Following is an off-the-cuff breakdown of the piece into the five-part structure established above:
Thematic Interest (personal): breakdown of elitist art world; heightening use of commercial, yet sentimental, items as material.
Thematic Interest (public): copyrighted items as artistic materials, everyday as divine, video game as art, art without commerce, art as public right.
Technical Interest (personal): hack the program, recoding/reprogramming, looping.
Technical Interest (public): hacking as artistic practice, provide public with step-by-step directions to recreate the work; provide art free to public (via internet).
Story: childhood enjoyment of video games; grew up during the time period of their commercial popularization; desire to continue their relevance; masculine sentimentality.
Arcangel’s artwork integrates the Thematic, Technical and Story Interests seamlessly. Ideas about column (a) intellectually relates to columns (b) and (c) and vice versa times five. The interest which began the formation of Super Mario Clouds is insignificant. However, the fleshing out of that initial interest with the others is the reason the piece is successful and continually popular.
The artistic process is not willy-nilly. Art is not (as so many writers discuss in public forums) plucked from a dream, written down, sold and lands on New York Times bestseller list. Personally, I find this classic studio story insulting. Of course there is inspiration (not something magical, but deriving from the brain processing information), which is followed by artistic technique and practice, the application of training, as well as self-knowledge, curiosity and thought. Ideally, the artistic process enlist the above ideas and format. Sometimes it does not — sometimes the works that are produced without an aim are successful anyway. Because, ultimately, all these ideas are my thoughts and beliefs on my own ideal artistic process.
: Allow it to be known that this is not an original idea. Unfortunately, I cannot remember where, when or from whom I received this information. I am still tracking it to its source.
: By “optimal art” I mean a piece that effects the audience emotionally and intellectually as well as comments on, explores, pushes forward, or in other ways addresses the medium in which it is created.
: Once, I asked a fellow undergraduate student about her senior thesis, “What’s it about?” She responded, “Mary Shelley.” I clarified, “What are you saying about Shelley?” I was trying to understand her viewpoint on the subject matter and how it was translating into a public theme. In other words, I was asking what she was trying to say in her script and she was incorrectly responding with what she was telling the audience.
: This should not be confused with the fact that the beliefs, perspectives, theories, etc are impossible to separate from the artist, since it who they are as humans. Rather it is the artist’s choice to explore these themes from different angles that separates the idea from the definition of self. (If we were discussing an artist’s style that would be much more imbedded in their humanity or personhood.)
: Some well-known examples: David Foster Wallace in literature; Sarah Kane in playwriting; Alexander McQueen in fashion; Lars Von Trier in film; John Zorn in music; Richard Foreman in performance; Shelley Jackson in textual media; John Cayley in multi-media poetry.
: I’ve written about and made references to the artist’s studio story. Essentially, this piece is an example of the real studio. Thus, my studio story for is the discussion of the breakdown of the artifice of the “studio story.”
: Full disclosure: My ex-partner worked with Cory at the Bard MFA program, so I received some (limited) knowledge of Cory and his work that may not be as easily accessible to the general public.
: Note: Cory provides the steps to recreate this work on his publicly viewable website at no charge.
On the Artistic Process of “On the Aims of the Artistic Process”
It has just at this moment occurred to me that I should be taking notes on my process of writing about the writing process. I am unsure how I will finagle this onto the blog but I picture a two column page. The piece on the writing process and this immediately beside it. A visual idea stolen from Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper.
It’s true that a conversation with a friend sparked the idea. However, it wasn’t the only reason I’m interested in the topic. As
a wannabe an aspiring writer I have a vested interest in the artistic process. My thoughts are a conglomeration of ideas and conversation I’ve had over many years. Unbeknownst to me, these ideas and conversation coalesced in my mind, kindled by the chat with my friend and created this post.
I considered first my ideal concept of an artistic process – then thought about why a writer never really discusses their process with the public bringing me back to my ex-partners idea of building the artistic world a secret society, a members only club, a way to keep outsiders (aka, non-artists) out. To confuse the public and make them believe that the artistic process is unavailable to them, thus they cannot partake in art creation. Thus curbing the amount of art available.
I moved to the bedroom. I am on about 17-18 mg of Adderall, three glasses of red wine, three cups of coffee and risotto. It is 10:45pm.
I finished the first post about The Hunger Games. The idea for this piece emerged from writing that one. Handwritten notes were taken.
I text, Tweet and Instagram while writing, albeit less now as I am in bed. A massive disgusting bug just slammed into the window screen and scared the shit out of me. It is very large and too loud. I crush it in the window frame. My concentration is lost. I take more Adderal.
I just became very sad about my life. I cry for no other reason than there is no one to comfort me.
I’ve decided this piece is an exploration because I’m not quite sure what I am talking about and even if I was certain I’m not that smart and so may be easily disproved by others, and may disagree with myself sooner or later. I’m trying to remember when I first thought about artistic process and form/function. I must have stolen it. Perhaps in undergraduate school, but further remembrances of the few professors it may have come from don’t ring true.
So, where did I pick up form follows function or was it function follows form?
It’s raining. The sound is soothing.
I will never sleep tonight.
I must have read it somewhere.
I’ve never studied architecture. What books have I read with architecture as a theme? The Fountainhead. This can’t be the idea’s locus. I brazenly continue on.
“However, it may be noted that the perimeters of this discourse are within the field of the thought acts of the artistic process and not necessarily the physical acts of the process. We will not be referring to the best way to thread a needle for a specific quilting stitch.” I deleted these sentences; they are untrue. I will be discussing the physical aspects of the artistic process in relation to how and why the material decisions are made.
At the Whitney Biennale, I expressed my inclination for a particular piece, my friend asked “what’s your favorite movie up there?” I was taken aback. He had pointed out something I had not noticed; blinded by the piece’s material and how the material was manipulated. He saw story, I saw theme and technique.
Now I am typing up my handwritten notes (jotted down while finishing another post) after a massive, heart wrenching text fight with an ex-lover. We shall not be friends.
This is my fault.
Now I endeavor to read and sleep, returning to these ideas tomorrow.
It is now 5pm the following day. I have spent today updating my blog. I am overly concerned with the layout of this page. I did not write anything further.
In the shower I realize I’m overcomplicating the piece. I pull back from the wayward meanderings into architecture and design. In the first thoughts/drafting, my common process is to stretch to the edges of the idea: a mental spiderwebbing. Allowing the mind to wander, encapsulate and connect every applicable memory. Picture a large road map, the many roads and towns to pass through. I start at one place, aiming for certain points, toward the evidential end. This act is repeated using different road. Then step back to locate the most solid path and waylays in the strongest towns/points.
I emailed my ex-partner to verify the source of this idea. He may not remember.
It is cloudy. 10mg of Adderall. Two cups of very strong tea. I am concerned about the amount of time I have to write today.
I’ve worked on the first paragraph for 2 hours.
I am up and down from my computer. The words are coming, but I now think the idea may not be as interesting as I once believed. It could have been the liquor.
I am a terrible proscratinator.
The physicalization of thoughts into words on page clarifies the concept and uncloaks weaknesses. Placing letters on pages assists the reordering of them – the reforming – the honing – the proving or disproving of the theory. This phenomenon interests me.
It is coming faster now. I recognize that I cannot write apologetically. Sometimes one must be bold. Be Don Quixote. Fail grandly. I will not apologize or try to over explain why I think something, especially if it gets me off topic.
I have reached the second point and froze. I haven’t solidified my ideas in this area or I’m distracted.
I am annoyed by the presence of others.
Slowly the structure is coming together. I found two main sections: Aims and Approach. Aims breaks down into three subsections. I am working on consistent structuring of subsections – intro paragraph, public/private.
I’m interrupted today by weather, noise, people’s comings and goings. It’s difficult to be in a space where I am not taken seriously. It has always been this way. Noise chases me from room to room.
I crave a cigarette.
I have returned to the beginning to fine-tuning the language and readdress the clarity of ideas.
The end of the article still has random paragraphs of initial ideas which I will either delete or incorporate (mostly delete).
A reminder note to myself: “[Insert first paragraph about thematics-you may be personal here -consider the definitions of thematics – it is nothing more or less than what our minds turn about and how our perceptions of the world work – disregard that – it is the questioning, the seeking, the ideas that we aim to prove or disprove, or at the very least discuss]”
I have reached what should be the final paragraph/conclusion and I am unsure if I should return to the original tense discussion that sparked this. Would it be too personal? It’s difficult to find another example. An example is key.
I discovered an example.
And finalized the conclusion.
:Readers please note that although this section of the post poses as a diaristic style of my time writing the actual piece, I have heavily edited these notes.
:“The writer must be four people: 1) The nut, the obsédé 2) The moron 3) The stylist 4) The critic 1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence. A great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2’ they’re most important.” Sontag. Reborn. Hardcover. pg 294.
:And this is how the brain works – it collects data and connects it to other related data and stores it. This is how we remember. Janet Cardiff: “The mind is a dark pool of forgotten, illogical facts and images as much as it is a logical reasoning entity. But it is also about magical places in our imagination that we encounter in our lives maybe for just a brief time.”
:This is a greater idea but I do not want to get any further off topic.
Pingback: The Hunger Games: Credibly Unique Protagonists in YA Lit | How Y.A. Fiction Works
Pingback: Linked: A Prelude to Story in YA Lit | How Y.A. Fiction Works
Pingback: We Were Liars: Compositionally Unstable | How Y.A. Fiction Works
Pingback: Gone Girl: To Be YA or Not To Be YA | How Y.A. Fiction Works
Pingback: On Andrew Smith and Attacking the Avant-Garde | How Y.A. Fiction Works
Pingback: On Querying: It’s About Etiquette | How Y.A. Fiction Works
Hi! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be
ok. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward
to new updates.