Recently, I have been considering the importance of process and product with reference to art making. Is the process of making the art the most important thing for the artist, or is there something equally as important in having this work shown to the public – whether this is an exhibition, a performance or a publication? Would some, perhaps, even say this public exposure is more important? I am talking in this post about all artists and creative practitioners.
I’m of the opinion that having work exhibited (or performed, or published) is an important part of any artists’ creative practice. It provides the opportunity for the artist to have a voice in the world, and increases their feeling of self-worth. I do, however, have absolutely no doubt about the importance of the creative process – for Outsider Artists; for all artists. For everybody. It allows self-exploration, self-expression, communication and so much more. But, I am interested to know the impact exhibiting has on an artist. As a writer (although not a creative writer), I find that having work published helps me think I am doing something right. This is not to say that if I didn’t have work published, I would cease writing – as this is certainly not the case; I would write regardless of whether anyone was taking a blind bit of notice. But it encourages me to write more, particularly for this blog, where I have an interested following. Publication also means my work can be seen by a wider audience and that means my voice is being shared with more people.
Having conducted some research into the subject, I have found that most of the literature on the process versus product idea comes from art therapy schools. As art therapy is not something I am going to discuss in this article, I am taking process to mean the action of creating art (often a very therapeutic undertaking), and I am taking product to mean an exhibition, performance or publication which means the work created can be accessed by the general public.
My decision to write on this topic came about somewhat from bits of my current work. Specifically, looking at the impact a publicly-accessible product can have on offenders and ex-offenders. I think this group highlights my point most succinctly. If works by offenders and ex-offenders – a notoriously stigmatised and marginalised group – can be experienced by the average passer-by, this can have an overwhelming impact on their self-image and, fundamentally, their personal journey towards rehabilitation. Having work displayed/published/performed in a ‘space’ dedicated to the arts means they have a legitimate place in society, and a new ‘label’ (despite my disdain for labels) that is profoundly less negative than the one that society has previously given them. For prisoners, having work and feedback from those ‘on the outside’, can provide links with the community and a huge surge in self-worth: they see themselves as worthy of having their work seen by society.
This is not to say that we still need to think about the ethics of displaying work by Outsider Artists – or any artists for that matter. We must still ensure we are always working towards an ethically considered way of approaching the curation of art by vulnerable people. For more on this, you may like to have a browse through the ‘Curatorial Questions’ section of the blog.
I think the internet has certainly had a large part to play in the ‘product’ side of the argument. Now, artists, writers, performers, etc., can upload their work to a website or a blog for the world to see. It is not so dependent on having an exhibition in a sought after location, or having your book published by a well-known publishing house. Perhaps there are artists out there who prior to the internet may not have considered ever having their work seen (perhaps due to a lack of opportunity or luck in the art world), who are now able to share what they are doing with a wider audience. But this, I think, is a technological tangent, albeit an interesting one that I might explore further in future.
Anyway, I think I have said as much as I can, and now it’s over to you. I would be very interested to hear from artists about their thoughts on this subject. Does exhibiting/performing your work provide something extra outside of the creative process? Is feedback important? Is sharing your voice and your thoughts a vital part of your practice?