The Process Screams: Work And Fulfillment

Republished from Aug. 11, 2012

The artist’s mantra, still today, is “process”, though the definition has changed a bit. The doing of art–emersion in the process–is set high on a spiritual pedestal. It’s a pathway to God–a way of connecting to the soul or to the universe or what have you.

I can’t dispute these claims, really, but I see a tendency to take something lauded from the past and imbue it with meaning beyond the original intent; kind of like our elation when we see an old master’s painting in-person that we had previously seen featured in books; familiarity is influential. The “old master” in this case–the 1960’s art-as-process movement. I wonder how much of an influence it is today on one searching for meaning in their work and life.

Expanded Expansion by Eva Hesse

Expanded Expansion by Eva Hesse

The movement’s original emphasis on the act, not the end product, being the art, has also become a way of dealing with fear and inhibitions, i.e., if you focus on the process, not the end product, you’re more likely to move beyond the fear of failure and do the work. Whether or not this idea originated from the movement, it’s still good advise; it’s a mistake to glare harshly at the prospect of a failed work or at one’s finished piece. As Matisse said, “draw often and do not reflect too much”.

I see both of these ideas, the spirituality of process and process as focus, as branches of the “Process Art” evolutionary tree. I’ve not studied it but I wonder what the thinking was before the 60’s in regards to process–was it ever, in the annals of art-time, connected to spirituality or wholeness or the like? And how much did other endeavors, especially writing and formal psychology, play?

accomplishment without work is empty…
and work without direction is futility”

They don’t appear as opposites, like the proverbial yin and yang, but process and product are obviously inseparable. There is satisfaction in both a hard days work and also in accomplishment of purpose, but accomplishment without work is empty (though I sometimes think that if I could snap my fingers and the work be done instantly, the way I envisioned it, that that would be okay with me) and work without direction is futility.

Blue Field Painting (In Progress) by MTMcClanahan

For me, though, the vision is the excitement; it prompts me to work in the first place. It’s the vision that drives me, not the procedural matters. I’m not against work, I enjoy work, I just want my process to be slave to my vision, my process to scream for the end result. Work for work’s sake, process for process’ sake, I haven’t found to be so fulfilling.

I wonder if, in all this, I haven’t yet let go of the end product enough to be able to reap the full, spiritual benefits of the process that leads me there. I guess, I too, am a work-in-progress–maybe the process personified.

Links to process:
MOCA, Los Angeles 

MT McClanahan

An artist and perpetual thinker, MT McClanahan finds inspiration through connecting ideas across a broad range of topics. He especially enjoys philosophy and how art and life interconnect. He is the founder of TPT and his paintings can be seen at

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