Shiny things. Polished things. Tidied up, at-their-best, wrapped-up-with-a-bow things.
Have you noticed that these are what we celebrate most often?
And so we should: crossing the finish line is often the result of many late nights, long hours, heartache. Presenting something to the world is a culmination and a release. Launches—of features, books, art projects—are likened to giving birth for good reason, and deserving of fanfare.
But what about the labor that precedes the unveiling? The sleepless nights and countless iterations that birthed this beautifully-crafted masterpiece? The seconds and minutes days over months that went into developing the skills to even approach the idea?
I’ve been working on an art project for a few months. I thought it would take one (HAHAHAHAHA). I now realize how grossly I underestimated how long it would take to:
- Define a cohesive narrative
- Learn the skills needed in order to execute
- Make the thing
- Iterate and refine
- GIVE BIRTH
People ask me: So. What are you working on?
And I reply, in what feels increasingly in lame vein: Oh. That art project.
But because there’s nothing finished or polished to show for it yet, it feels like all of this work just doesn’t count. And given how much effort and heart is going in, that just feels weird.
Maybe I never “finish” this thing, for whatever reason. Maybe it morphs into a completely different animal. Maybe I die tomorrow. Maybe I fall out of love with it and move on.
But why do we wait to share our stories? Regardless of the “final” pieces they may or may not become, the fruits of labor exist in the present. There’s integrity in this kind of imperfection and incompleteness.They can stand on their own if we trust them to.
There’s something to be said for process that you pitch your soul and time and money into. Process that allows you to follow your curiosity, learn how to do something you didn’t know how to do before, discover kindred spirits, or become an inspiration to someone else. Even if there’s an initially imagined and hoped-for end that’s never realized.
Goals can be great, but they’re best as tools, not trophies.
We place so much value on the unveiling of a finished thing in comparison to the drafting and building of it, that it can feel unbalanced.
Yes, follow-through is important. We all want to follow through, and we put our backs into it, often for sustained periods of time.
But it’s also important to remember that small follow-throughs are what big follow-throughs depend on, and that a “finish line” is actually the last of a series. You have to cross many before you can cross the final one.
By the way, this is when you realize that you might be involved in a long game.
Whenever I go to museums, I gravitate toward unfinished things.
I find studies and sketches not only as beautiful but as, if not more, interesting, than what comes afterward. I’m so grateful to curators and educators who elevate drafts to the level of masterpieces in prominent institutions.
Artifacts of process are their own pieces of art.
Building for the sake of curiosity and desire rather than an end goal deserves some of the center-stage and spotlight. So how about a little love for process, obscurity, exercise, and labor? They’re what make launches and apotheoses happen, and they’re worth applause too.
Do you have things in progress—un-precious, experimental, imperfect, liminal—that you want to share with the world?
Message me (a screenshot, sketch, or photograph) on Twitter @colbay or share on Instagram @ProcessIsArt with #ProcessIsArt.