Sunday, November 20, 2016

Process vs. Product, Why Make Art (and Thoughts on Crafts)

For my whole life I have been a process based maker. I knew it inside and that is why when I homeschooled my kids I was quite different than how other parents and teachers approached art making with children. I thought my way was normal and right but apparently I am / was the minority.  As I attempted to do group activities with other homeschoolers or neighbors I saw product not process. I also hated coloring books and never bought them for my little kids. Instead we used plain paper to draw and paint on. 

Then my oldest was a toddler I attended a lecture at a parenting conference by an artist, Susan Striker, who encouraged parents to expose their children to art making (not crafts) and she emphasized process not product. I completely agreed but wanted more info so I bought her two books and read them. They are ideas and her philosophy written for parents and teachers. She also had a line of anti-coloring books on the market which encouraged kids to use their imagination by asking open ended questions and having them draw out their answers. I did buy those but my kids wanted no part of them.

The reason to emphasize process not product with little kids is that the goal is to grow their creativity and to have fun with the process because they are too young to learn all the formal art rules that create works that look a certain way and attempts to copy to try those methods will yield ugly results that the child will hate sometimes, then they will turn on themselves, feel poor self-esteem and be discouraged from further experimentation and play with art making. Also the young child's poor gross and fine motor skills interfere with their brain and hands doing what it needs to do for some art making plans recesses. However knitting does help a child's brain prepare for learning to read, as does large body cross movements across the lateral plane, whether that is painting across large canvases, drawing on a big blackboard or using the monkey bars at a playground. 

When you want to have a certain product you need to know the steps to get there (but preschoolers and little kids are usually not developmentally ready for that). If you want a sweater that fits you must know how to get the right gauge by correct yarn selection and consistent knitting tension to match your knitting pattern or you will wind up with something that's too small, too big, too long, or wonky being all of the former mixed into one garment. If you want to paint a landscape of a sunset and have it look like the actual fantastic sunset you must use good paint and know how to mix it just right then how to apply the paints with different strokes and the brush you choose matters.

Ideas and Message Communication

In the adult world of art making there are three fields. 

One is to create a visual representation to convey a message someone else thought up, think of a children's picture book where an author wrote the words and the publisher needs the illustrations, in America we call that person an illustrator. Think of the Magic trading card game where game creators think up new characters and they need an illustration on the card, so an oil painter is hired to paint a dragon in a fantasy setting. 

The second field is graphic design where a company is selling something or marketing a product or service and they need everything from the company's name written in a font, color, and size that appeals or conveys a message, or they need a logo or an advertisement created. Packaging is also the realm of the graphic designer sometimes. The graphic designer doesn't invent the original product or company, they are hired to create marketing and promotional materials. 

The third field is what we call the fine arts. In my layperson's eye this means the artist is the one who conceived the idea and who carried out the process to make it. They are in full control and are working for themselves. The question becomes why are they making art? Presently it is considered in the art world to be most pure if an artist is making art to share a message or idea. A writer may write an essay and publish it on a blog or do freelance to rant on their hatred of rape but the artist uses primarily visual tools (not words on paper or on the computer screen) to convey emotion, thoughts and messages they want the viewer to learn, be exposed to, or influenced by. Sometimes the driving desire is to promote or lash out at an issue or a main goal of influencing others while at other times the artist is using art making to work out their own thoughts or emotions and the fact that someone else will see it is secondary or maybe not even cared about. 

There are artists whose goal is commercial sales and money making. Their original idea may have been to make something for fun or some other purpose and then it may change into something that is reproduced on a grand scale. I guess also comic strip artists fall into this category, I'm not sure. A comic may start as a way to share a message, silly, funny or serious but if hired for regular production  it starts to be about meeting a deadline and forcing creative content to be thoughtful for a deadline. 


Crafts of the type that uses a kit or specific detailed set of directions are about product making and the strictest types have little room for customization or freedom of choice. I was going to say these are very constricting and terrible as that is my personal opinion and experience with them but then I thought of my second child. After having a firstborn that was gleeful in making art and anything that was maker-generated with freedom of choice my second was the opposite. By the time he was in elementary school he firmly preferred a perfect final product which he seldom could make at age 5-7 and he wanted to be told directions. To him following directions strictly was rewarding. He wanted acceptance by the authority figure and he wanted to feel competent by feeling he could do a thing that was expected of him. It boosted his self-esteem to know he did a thing well and correctly. This is the opposite of my older son and I who never thought of the other people when creating. We had fun playing and experimenting with the materials. We wanted options and choices. We worked with spontaneity and the constant choice to change one's mind gave us freedom. We rebelled against sets of directions or the person who was dictating to us to do this then that then this then that just so. We wanted to improvise. 

To me when wanting a final product to be a certain way that is designed and conceived by another person, it is usually a craft. You can do the steps without feeling any emotion about it, there is no message or idea being communicated. There is usually no personalization. But if you change things with your own techniques or ideas or content then it transforms it into art and it stops being a craft. 


To put it simply to me art is when an individual creates something out of an idea or with a desire to share an emotion or message. The extent to which the viewer may understand or perceive the intended message cannot be always guaranteed as people have their own minds and opinions, ideas and perceptions. Even if an artist intends that their work should be interpreted or understood in a certain manner the viewer may reach a different impression or may miss the message entirely. 

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