by Joy Wong
Thinking about doing something isn’t the same as doing it.
I have heard this line a handful of times in my life, often as a gesture to reduce procrastination and laziness, as opposed to a point of motivation. “Thinking about art isn’t the same as making it.”
But is the thinking segment not just as important as the production?
Over the past few pieces of writing, I’ve ruminated on points of anxiety behind my art practice, on politics, progress, process, and now I am zooming out and am looking at the idea of art-making as a whole.
“As they say, publish or perish,” I had a professor tell me after I failed to take photos of a solo show I had in one of the project spaces on campus. If you do not document your work, it is as though it never existed. It was career sabotage. I understood her reason, pragmatically, how important it was to have documentation to add to a portfolio (and often, in installations, performance, or other ephemeral pieces, it is the only way to “keep” the work) I fully believe the major point of creating is to communicate in manners of meaning (as complicated as that word is) and beauty.
But is it the entire point to have your work be seen/experienced? What about the works that never get shown publicly, that never get hung on a wall or put on stage or printed in hardcopy? If an artwork falls in a forest but nobody sees it, does it exist?
I have learned that there will be pieces of work I make that nobody will ever see, and that is okay. To reckon that not everything has be on display, literally or symbolically, is learn to revel in the making and the process of work. To learn to not be entranced by the final product is to learn that there is significance in the production.
What about the times when the work is never completed? What about all the works that reside in sketchbooks and computer files, in mental memory that never make it out of the real world? Do they also not exist, if there isn’t a viewer?
There are other questions too, about the type of art being made; what about art therapy? What about those who make work as a hobby? Is the artwork that is recognized by institutions and spoken about in textbooks and critical literature more “existent” than the private artwork one makes (or thinks about making)? Is the hierarchy of art inescapable? Do we only value the work that is already privileged by institutional structures?
Finally, how does one break down these internalized beliefs about art and production?
Softness Series, Acryl Gouache and graphite on Mylar, 11″ X 17″ 2016. The series this piece is from has never been shown in a gallery and maybe never will.
Thinking about it isn’t the same. No, thinking about making is part of making. The thought process is not just as valid as the making, but an inherent part of it. One does not perform an action without the decision to do so. One does not set about making work and engaging in the production of art without the making of decisions that directly impact the work. Research is art making. Writing is art making. Pictorial problem-solving is art making, critiquing, planning, and re-doing are all part of art making. The small, myriad actions that bring art into physical fruition are just as important, just as real as the piece itself, and if all these actions exist for you, as the art maker, then that is enough.