Are you the driver or are you being driven

Over the last weeks I have realised that amongst all the matter (thought and ‘real’) there is an almost hidden but subtle chasm between how making is approached.

On the one side a definite end goal is known and thus is the starting point of the making process. A train of thought leads to a vision that ‘pops up’ in ones mind of a home baked bread for example. Now research is done, ingredients are gathered, measured, mixed, tested and baked, resulting (even if only after a couple of experimental attempts) in a home baked bread. What happened was the effective and rational translation of an idea into its material or physical form. The aim here was to find and determine the most suitable and accurate material or method to bring the idea into reality. The maker is the driver knowing his or her final destination, even if this is via a detour. The focus is the end goal.

On the other side of the chasm things are a bit less fixed. Here the making process seems to be rooted in discovery, which leads step by step into the unknown. After a thought or thing is discovered, for example a bag of apples, the question now asked is ‘what do you (bag of apples) want done to yourself’ or ‘how do you want to be developed?’. This repeating process of doing something to or with the bag of apples and then re-asking the same question after something has been done with or to the bag of apples, leads step by step into no-mans-land. The tricky but also magical part of this way of making is that sometimes it is unclear when you are done, or rather when the cycle should be ended. This is where the non-rational elements of feeling or intuition come in. Within this making process one is the passenger in a taxi in an unknown city on a never ending site-seeing tour, not knowing the amount of sites around. The final destination is determined by a mere ‘feeling’ that compels you to exit the cab, only to hail the next one. The focus is the process.

I am a bit nervous to write this because this is such a heated and sensitive matter but I am very close to understanding the first, goal driven way of making as design and the second as art, not elevating one above the other. I associate design-making with problem solving, structure and an assignment- and outcome-based approach, indeed very similar to writing an academic paper. Art-making, on the other hand reminds me more of discovery and play (I use the word ‘play’ here but I don’t mean for it to detract from the potential intellectual and philosophical value of the process). Both ways of making are inevitably rooted in the cultural, social and economic circumstances of the maker, and the final product can thus be regarded as a mirror of both the person and his or her environment (good old nature vs nurture). What is interesting is that design-making allows for a work to be knowingly (consciously) created and placed by the maker within the art historical context, the maker thus actively engaging and contributing to the (art historical but also cultural) discourse through a specific reaction or statement. Contrarily, considering that the maker following the art-making approach does not know the outcome of his or her work (sometimes not even the start of it), there is no conscious aspect that aims to integrate it into the art historical context. This is typically where curators or art historians (both art history experts) would come in, I would imagine, to ‘make sense of it’ as in place it within the appropriate context. It reminds me of what a South African curator said recently, namely that “there is more art being produced in South Africa than ever before. As such there is not only a need for new museums, galleries etc… but folk like me to make sense of what is going on…”.

This leads me to a suspicion that I have which is that there seem to be two different entry points to art or the art world (even though I’m presenting this divide as black and white, it’s rather grey and overlapping). The first starts with a person liking art, artists and its discourse and thus the desire to be part of it which leads them to enter the art world for example through going to art school. The second is a natural, childlike tendency or urge to make and create, independent of what has been made before, realising later that this action or activity is referred to as making art and that there are more people doing it ‘professionally’. I have the feeling that the first (inspiration driven) entry point links to or naturally results in design-making as the preferred creation method as it allows for the conscious participation in the art world’s discourse, whereas the second (intuition driven) entry point has its foundation in the creation process itself, which thus connects it to art-making.

At the moment I am very confused where I stand, swinging between design-making and art-making, looking at my past and my future, and my now, recognising phases of each. I do notice though that design-making gives me an ego boost. Art-making frees me.