“The Future is not ominous but a promise; surrounding the present as a halo” ― John Dewey from Art as Experience.
This past fall (2013) I took a graduate seminar in contemporary art. In the seminar we focused on “Process Art.” Process Art was first documented in the late 1960s in two separate shows. One was called “When Attitudes Become Form” (Bern, 1969) and the other was titled “Procedures/Materials” (New York, 1969). These shows put forth the idea that the act of making art was more important than the final artwork. For example, some Process Artists use transitory materials like water, ice or wax in their artwork and part of the art, may be, watching the water evaporate or watching the ice or wax melt. One of the concepts behind Process Art is that it’s a reflection on the impermanence of life so the experience of creating art is what’s really important – not the end result. One of the other components of Process Art is to create “non-precious” art; something that can’t be sold for a large sum of money.
I contend that many writers are process artists and they don’t even know it.
I see process writers (that’s what I’m going to call them) as individuals who have a clear vision of what they want to write and are unwilling to compromise. That’s not bad, per se, but the process writer conjures up, in me, a particular scene in the film Sunset Boulevard (1950). In the scene, Joe Gilles, the screenwriter has just been handed part of a screenplay that silent film star Norma Desmond has written for her comeback for her return to the screen. Gilles warily looks at the piles of pages that comprise the script and with a sneer in his voice says “there was enough for ten scripts.” [Screenplays are normally 120 pages and one page equals one minute on the screen.] Over the next couple of hours, while he sits and reads it, Gilles devises a plan. He’ll offer to help Norma get her script in order in exchange for some money ― $500 a week. It’s at this point that Joe Gilles turns to Norma Desmond and says, “It’s a little long. We might have to cut some.” Norma’s response is, “I will not have it butchered!” See, if there’s such a thing as a process writer, Norma Desmond would have been a process writer because she wasn’t interested in commercial viability. Who would want to see a 1200 minute silent film about Salome? (I’d rather watch the Nazimova version and that’s only an hour.) Norma Desmond used the act of writing as a release; a way to put down on paper the creativity that was inside her along with how she felt “in her heart.” She was writing for herself. That’s what I imagine process writers doing. Their enjoyment comes from the process and the satisfaction they get from sticking to their vision. The writing is the reward.
What about process writers and the impermanence of life? If we go under the assumption that process writers don’t get published because they’re more interested in remaining true to their artistry (or dream or concept) as opposed to publishing a book ― then the impermanence of life can be linked to their writing being lost due to the fact that there is no published record of their work.
The concepts of transitory materials and non-precious art should be obvious. All writers use transitory materials when they use hand written words on paper or, worse, 1s and 0s in a computer. The idea of non-precious art comes into play when a novel is not validated by failing to be put into the commercial marketplace.
Am I process writer? No, because I definitely had my eyes set on what could be commercial. I kept telling myself the story needed to move fast and it had to be funny ― for the readers’ sake. I wanted the story in my book, The Odd Fellows, to be inhibited by characters that were likeable, attractive and sexy but not too sexy. It’s not that kind of a book. I didn’t want to write a talky book. I wanted to write a book where the images remained in the readers mind not necessarily what the characters’ said. My goal was to write a visual book. Also, I wasn’t interested in creating new ways of writing. Gertrude Stein and James Joyce may be great writers but they’re not the writers most readers select from their bookshelves first.
I try to remind myself of the quote at the beginning of this blog post whenever negative thoughts pass through my brain concerning the future. Recently, I was reading another Bold Strokes Books writer’s blog and she expressed all my fears and apprehensions when she stated she was “stressing” (out) about her “good news” (finally getting published). I too need to accept the happiness that comes with publication and my good fortune. The future will unfold over time and I want to believe “the promise” I have for it will come true. Yet all writers should remember that while getting published is important ― the process of writing is equally as important. As writers we simply have to determine whether we want to be published writers or process writers. It’s a conscious decision writers make every time they are offered constructive advice concerning their writing and either accept it or reject it.