I want to talk tonight about the process of making art. Because it is just that: a process.
Rarely (if ever) does something come into our heads fully formed, gifted from the muses with perfection. No, even in the best of circumstances we may have a vision, but it still needs to be rendered tangible so that it can be refined, then reviewed, then refined again.
More often, we begin with merely an inkling, or perhaps a smattering of them. And then we need to, once again, render then tangible so we can see them, massage them, reflect on them and see what arises, then follow those paths, massaging and reflecting and following again, until we get to multitudinous cycles of refinement.
All to reach that ‘final’ product… which in actuality is really just the point where we stopped because if we kept going we (and others*) could see new things and we could elevate the work even more.
Fortunately, the works of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation provide excellent windows into this truth about process. They have been remarkably generous in sharing the stories and histories of creation on a movie, from the earliest notions and sketches to the final product often five years later. That there alone might be enough to have us grasp how much of a process it is, for five years is quite a long time to labour on something. But it becomes even more palpable when we see just how different the early concepts and visions are to what ends up on the screen. (Sometimes it feels like there’s no connection between the two at all!) There’s tonnes of directions and ideas and themes that didn’t work, or didn’t work as well as another, or had their own pitfalls, or didn’t fit. Along the way, whole scenes are discarded, whole elements excised. At the most extreme, the entire last third of the movie, or even the whole movie, was tossed in order to rework and rewrite them towards awesomeness. They’re not shy about this (clearly not, since they’re telling us about it). I doubt its easy, but it’s part of the artistic process.
So why do we think this isn’t the case? Why do we often hold a notion that true art somehow should come in a flash, perfectly formed, and if there’s even a bit of struggle there must be something wrong? I’d postulate this: because, in the end, if the work has been refined and elevated enough then the final result feels inevitable. Everything fits and sings and it seems like it couldn’t be any other way.
Here’s the takeaways that I wanted to create…
For one, an invitation to not be harsh or dismissive when we hear a work is taking a long time or is going through a lot of rewrites or editing or reshoots or whatever, depending on the medium. That’s a part of the process. The thing is not necessarily in trouble. It’s doing what it needs to do. **
For two, a reminder to not be harsh or despondent towards ourselves and our creative endeavours. Especially when they’re HARD. And when they need wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and refinement. It’s part of the process.
And lastly, to gather this all up and apply it to our lives and the grand art we all practice, that of the art of living. For it is no different; it too is a process. And as such we can be kinder and gentler with ourselves, and with others, and dance in the truth that it ongoingly requires great amounts of reflection, wrangling, changes, shifts, refinement, refinement, and forevermore refinement.
It is a neverending path towards increasing beauty.
* Because through this all we needn’t be alone in this – quite the contrary it’s much better to bring along a posse. As noted before, “ya gotta pin your work up on the wall.”
** I’d get more worried if there were no changes being made. Maybe it’s the perfect conception! But odds are not…