An Answer in Syracuse
After giving a presentation at Syracuse University titled The Escape of Art (“escaping from narrow perceptions others may have about what visual arts is about…”) I was asked a question by Errol Willett, from the Department of Art, about the future role of process, method and technique in thinking differently about our studio practices. It is a good question and one that lies at the heart of what we do as artists, students, thinkers, practitioners, teachers. My response was to talk about the limits of seeing the issue in terms of the process-product dichotomy because this linear idea is unable to capture the richness of contemporary art practice. Instead there seems to be more opportunity in opening up the ‘space’ where we work with materials, ideas, processes, people etc – i.e. the spaces and places where we do our best studio thinking. I mentioned the response that Christo and Jeanne Claude gave in 1979 to a question about whether their work emphasizes process or product and their response was to say it was more about “process and progress” – it is the progress that is made by the many people who become part of entire process, from the initial idea to the final installation, even if it is temporary.
A clue to the future role of process, method and technique seems to me to be best found in the studio thinking we do – and this can be in artist’s studios, classrooms, on the street, or in your cellphone. The point is that the space for thinking is always expanding. But at the heart of it we do our most imaginative thinking through the materials and processes we know that are part of the rich family of atelier traditions and its newer digital cousins; across the multiple languages when visual forms are created and interpreted, and within and between the many and varied personal and public contexts and settings where the things we make can be seen as creative and critical acts that can have an impact on individuals and communities.
What I didn’t mention in my response was to refer to a slide in the talk (click here) that identified some of the ways that studio thinking can be opened up when we look closely at what artists do; the way they think to open things up; the ideas that they offer through the things they make; and what can happen when we take flight with them. And in writing this I am reminded of some comments James Haywood Rolling (another faculty member at Syracuse) made in a panel presentation at the recent CAA conference. James described several distributed and interactive ways that artist-researchers give form to ideas and knowledge through artistic inquiry and some of these are anticipated and embodied before and during the process of artmaking, and some occur after the event as outcomes and interpretations are enacted in broader social contexts. So questions of process and product enliven our respect for tradition and method, yet encourage the unanticipated because that’s what happens when knowledge and imagination meet possibility.