Process over Product: What Makes Art Worthwhile?

I wouldn’t consider myself an artist. I do artistic things, sure, but I’m not an artist. Mostly, I colour in colouring books and design book covers in Photoshop. I colour to curb my anxiety and I design book covers out of simple necessity. I don’t generally take up artsy or crafty things without having a need to for some kind of practical purpose. I don’t create art for the sake of art so I am not an artist, even though I have artistic hobbies.

Sometimes, I end up creating more frustration for myself than anything else when I’m doing something artistic. It ceases to become enjoyable and starts feeling like an unwanted nuisance; a tiresome chore I can’t wait to be finished with. I never could explain why art was fun for me on some days and an aggravating waste of my time on other days. If you enjoy something, you should consistently enjoy it, shouldn’t you? It wasn’t until a few days ago that I figured out the explanation while colouring a contest entry and it was a laughably obvious and simple explanation, too. I was embarrassed that it took me so long to figure it out.

Art is only enjoyable when you’re not thinking about the end result.

Creating art is a lot like writing a novel. You start out with nothing but a vague idea in your head of what you want your creation to look like and then you start filling up a blank page or canvas with your thoughts and emotions. The problem is that there is a lot of painstaking, thankless work involved in getting your creation from a blank slate to that finished product you have in your minds’ eye. The process, if I’m being perfectly frank, is miserable. You really need to have a passion for that miserable, arduous process in order to get any enjoyment out of what you’re creating.

Art is not glamorous. It’s not easy. Art is sleepless nights, messy workspaces, paint and whatever else stuck to your hair and your skin and your clothes, hours and hours of careful lines and brush strokes and blending that no one appreciates or thanks you for. People will only care about your creation when it’s finished but in the meantime, they’ll be all too happy to mock you and your vision during the messy creation process when they can’t see the end result that you can see. Writing is much the same way. No one cares that you’re writing a book; all they care about is what books you’ve already had published. No one cares about that year you spent clacking away at your keyboard running on nothing but coffee fumes and passion for your work. They only care when it’s done. They like seeing the results but they couldn’t care less about all the work that went into creating that finished product. You as the artist cannot afford to think like that. As soon as you start getting impatient to see the finished product before the process is complete, you’ll want to quit, because you’re wanting a masterpiece without wanting the work it requires to make that masterpiece. That’s when you will fail and when art and writing will cease to be something you enjoy.

In order for art to be worthwhile to the artist, the artist must enjoy the process. The artist must enjoy the daily toil with no reward beyond personal satisfaction. The artist must consider each new word written and each new stroke of the brush a success in itself and not a step towards success.

My high school philosophy teacher once told me that true friendship is when one sees the other as an end in him or herself, rather than as a means to an end. I’m pretty sure he was quoting Immanuel Kant when he said this but either way, the advice stuck with me. I’m reminded of that when I think about the creation of art. In order to be a friend to your creation, you must love it for what it is. You must love it when it’s an unpolished mess. You must love the daily routine of carefully nurturing it without worrying about what it will become later. You can’t look at it as something imperfect that you must make perfect. People shouldn’t be treated as a means to an end and neither should your art.

If you want to make sure you love your art for the rest of your life, be a good friend to it and love it when it isn’t pretty or fun.

Love your art when it’s difficult to love.

Copyright © 2017 A.A. Frias

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