On the beauty of the artistic process

Antara Basu
5 min readNov 30, 2017

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I have just completed my Semester 7 Pre Thesis Project at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, and I believe that I have a new perspective on the artistic process, a frustratingly beautiful entity that takes you through to completing an autonomous art project.

Having just completed my first large scale, self driven art/design project, I was able to look back and reflect on the ridiculously nerve wracking fifteen week long journey that it was. There were the usual things — feeling hopeless while in the midst of it but now looking back to see how much I have learned from the pressure, gaining confidence in carrying my own project through autonomously, and so on — but there was also a fresh insight into something that I had never consciously encountered before, something that could have only occurred to me over a lengthy process and plenty of confusion. A new perspective on the artistic process, and the journey it takes you on.

At this point, I feel the need to address my understanding of the distinction between a design process and an artistic one. This might not be a universally accepted definition, but it is the understanding that I have achieved over the course of my design education. During a design process, structure is important. There is a research stage that focuses intensively on engagement with specific target groups and finding the needs of these groups, followed by ideations and iterations, which gradually leads into prototyping, testing and further refining of the prototype. While I did loosely follow the same structure in my process, I knew fairly early on that I was going to create an art piece as my final output, and this meant recognizing at that stage how I can manipulate the set and expected process to be more humanized, more relatable and better fitting within the lines of what constitutes art.

I’ve understood art as an empirical and divergent practice or thought, or as something that prompts the same. I have developed my artistic practice around the act of bringing art to people, bridging the gap that is almost always present, humanizing the work that artists do and creating work that is relatable to a larger, varying audience, as opposed to the usual concerned few.

In tandem with this understanding and practice, I tried throughout the process to include the people in the process as much as I could. One of the inspirations for my project was the artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, whose sits in the areas of autobiography, human connections and creation of mythologies from lived experiences (https://www.artsy.net/artist/pamela-phatsimo-sunstrum). Taking inspiration from this artistic rationale, I went about engaging with and observing women, who became more than subjects. They were the content; they were the art itself as, at the time, I was simply representing them.

The piece developed, as did the artwork contained within it. All the materials, explorations and techniques developed as I prepared to carry out the execution of the final piece. In the middle of this rush of activity, I started to realize that the reins were no longer in my hand. I may have been making the decisions and choices, but the motive, the voices whispering in my ear and prompting me to go in a certain direction, was the process. Every interaction I had had up to that point, every epiphany, every experience and every sight and observation that I had taken note of, physically or mentally, seemed to be contained within a repository. It was no longer my repository, but that of the piece itself. This repository became the brain of the piece I was creating: the process.

The process became something that influenced every stroke and smudge that my hands put into the final execution, without my providing concrete conceptual validation behind it. I would not be able to reason out why a certain thing looked a certain way, but the process was the guide, with its all knowing repository on the subject I had spent weeks studying, researching, exploring and observing. I and many other skeptics and uncertain critics of the field of art would have contested the conceptual weight and relevance of, say, the emotional rage contained within a thick stroke of paint torn across a canvas. On looking back, I now know better than to ask “what does this thick stroke mean?”, but rather appreciate the representation of the repository of knowledge, that is the process behind a piece of art, its brain.

I would never have thought so deeply and come to this realization if it weren’t for the assessment juries that each Pre Thesis student’s project was put through. Understandably, being students, we are required to provide conceptual reasoning for every chapter of the journey of our projects and our output. Faced with these questions at the third and last of these, I thought as quickly and deeply as I could, hoping to dig and find the answer that these three experienced practitioners in the field of design were looking for in me. I, a Year Four student, presented them with an art piece that surfacially seemed to need too much conceptual linking and verbal guidance to rationalize all the visuals and imagery presented in it. Right there I realized that this was where design (or design process) ends and art (or artistic process) begins.

The artistic process led me to the creation of that detailed repository, which in turn informed every aspect of the piece, from its construction to its colours to its imagery. It would be futile to take someone through each and every one of these linkages, but it might well prove far more useful to introduce a viewer to this repository of knowledge gathered and allow them their own connection and contemplation with the piece. I would go as far as to say that the process itself then becomes the output. The piece is simply an expression of the process and its repository, but I could very well take the same repository and create a wholly different visual.

This for me is the beauty of the artistic process. While the general trend might be to look at process as a decidedly important means to an end, the artistic process in my practice is a guiding force that dictates every aspect of the output. It is an entity with a mind of its own and, if allowed, can be the most powerful aspect of art itself. Going forward from here, I think for the most part that I am glad that the confusion and chaos has paused for now, but this chaos provided me with a better knowledge of carrying out a large scale project than I did at the start of it. I am equipped with this beautiful new understanding of the artistic process and its role in my work, and I am convinced that chaos was the only thing that would have led me to this understanding. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see which direction it throws me in next.

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Antara Basu

I write about Graphic Design, Product Design and my unruly emotions. Peruse my thoughts here, or see my work at www.antarabasu.com