The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Art as Process, not Product – and Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres – Episode 19

For most people, when we think of art, we think of the finished item: the painting, the sculpture, the film etc.

It is this item that is then perceived to have value – it can be bought, sold, and displayed. 

It is a commodity.

For non-artists it's very easy to assume that creating art is much like assembling flat pack furniture. Perhaps a little more skilled and involved, but primarily it's about going through a sequence of steps to produce a final outcome, and then it gets sold.

And if the person who made it is seen to be particularly skilled or renowned, then you can expect to pay more for it.

But this idea often sits very uncomfortably with artists themselves.

You pour your heart, soul and creativity into fashioning something, only for its value to be decided by others, in a way that can be completely at odds with the meaning the piece has for you.

When I decided I was going to talk about the photos I did for Douglas Walker of Handcooked Studios, showing him in the act of screen printing, it started a series of conversations with my wife over a number of coffees at The Shed Café.

Although Maggie respects my staged narrative, tableau style shoots, she has a particular fondness for my photos of artists and makers at work.

She loves to see the intensity captured in the creative process.

As the discussions evolved, it became clearer that for the artist, it is the act of creating, that is the art. 

It is the pursuit of an idea, a mood, an itch just out of reach that has to be scratched. 

It is the preparations, the getting started, the wrong turns, the frustrations, the overcomings.

It is trying to find that place where it is finished, or abandoned, or destroyed and begun again.

The final piece is an end to that pursuit.

This is the point where the artist stops being an artist and now, perhaps, has to become a salesperson.

For the rest of the world, the art is the thing that has been created. But for the creator, the revealing of the thing is the cessation of the creative process.

And I don't think many non-artists ever really consider it in these terms.

So the first part of this week's episode is only partially about the photos of Douglas, and much more where I shoot off in a philosophical mode about whether art is the product or the process.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below – I really would love to have other opinions on this.

0:00 - What's coming up
2:15 - Introduction to photographing a screen printer in action.
10:30 - When art is the process, and not the product.
30:55 - Critique of images submitted to the Facebook Group, "Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres"
1:16:23 - Coming up next week

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Anonymous said...

For a lot of artists or creative people, I think you're bang on the money with this. Yes, you have to sell your work if you want to earn a living and I'm sure it can be easy to get into a rut where you're just churning out whatever you hope you can sell because our world has become so focussed on the material and you need to find a way to pay the bills. But I suspect that most artists also know full well when they're working on something that is really important and meaningful and that the value of such work to the artist themselves goes way beyond a mere product at the end of the process.

Kim Ayres said...

Thanks for letting me know on FB that it was you commenting, Adrian Waterworth. I love getting thoughtful comments so it's hugely frustrating if I have no idea who they are from :)

There's no doubt the need to make money can compromise, or at least put a strain on, the creative process for many artists and makers. If instead of pursuing that idea, a mood, an itch just out of reach that has to be scratched, you have to produce something that you know will sell, then it can become just another form of assembling flat pack furniture.

And that is soul destroying for anyone who became an artist precisely to try and escape that kind of life.

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

About the process: all work, even non-creative work, requires a process, whether it's running a business, building a house. Anyone who hasn't helped only sees the end product. They don't see the thoughts, the anguish, the hours, the sacrifice, the tiredness.

My brother, only today, was telling me that when he says he's painted the walls of the house he's working on, it's not just painting. It's the cleaning of the walls, etc.

It's a pity those who see the end product can't see the labour that goes into the finished product.

I've always wondered...who decides the value of the work? I think the artist should. Then leave it in the hands of a capable art business person to do the rest. But it's never that simple, is it?

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - you're absolutely right - everything that is man made required a process from conception to completion, and for the most part, we only ever see the final result.

It's partly why I love doing wee behind-the-scenes videos of my photo shoots whenever I can - it helps people to understand I don't just turn up, go click, then invoice them for more money than you would expect if all I was doing was turning up and going click :)

Unfortunately, price and value have many different forces playing on them, and what the artist wishes to charge is often only a small part of that, and sometimes no part at all.

And part of the problem of the artist deciding is there are some who have a vastly inflated idea of how good they are, while others massively undervalue themselves because of insecurity.

You're right - it's never that simple...

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