plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

Jeffrey Augustine Songco recently posted about different modes of art making. [UPDATE, Jeffrey kindly pointed out (comment 3) that some of the points I make about his work are oversimplifications]

He divides his art into two types, which I’ll call x and y. I use these neutral names because the names that Jeffrey used, although descriptive, are somewhat distracting for the point I want to make here.

Art type x “is thoroughly planned (at least as much as I can) and must specificaly state the meaning that I am ultimately trying to convey,” Jeffrey says. He almost never displays art type x in his studio on a normal day. It is what someone else would hang up and call art, but he prefers to look at type y.

With art type y, Jeffrey says “I find myself getting lost in during its creation. It is something that has no specific goal other than to explore my mind creativity.” This type of art is what Jeffrey would (and does) display for himself, and calls art.

Thus, art type x is “concept first” art. It is focused on an idea of what an artwork could be. Art type y is “process first” art. In terms of tangible product, the type y art seems to yield better results — as Jeffrey says, this is what he likes to look at.

Reading about art types x and y in the original post, I wondered, why make art type x at all? Why not simply do type y? I asked Jeffrey this and he replied:

I think with my [x] art, I get an amazing satisfaction during the conceptual process—the initial planning stages. Then, with my [y] art, I get an amazing satisfaction during the physical creation. So, perhaps they are two different kinds of importance—one where I can get lost thinking and one where I can get lost doing, both which I value equally.

Jeffrey’s description of two art types brings to mind the initial stages of scientific research. Before doing experiments, it is fun and exciting to make a hypothesis about what one will find. This sounds a bit like type x art.

The thing that lets science progress is to go beyond the concept stage and do some experiments to test the hypothesis. Experimentation is a process of doing. While the experiment needs to have a design, while carrying it out it helps to focus on the process itself, to avoid imposing the hypothesis on the data. This is a bit like type y art. What often happens in scientific research is that the hypothesis gets trashed because of findings that one makes while doing the experiments. Then it’s time to make a new hypothesis and then more experiments.

I bring up the science example for the sake of illustrating the concept-process cycle. Concept and process are linked productively. While the first hypothesis might get trashed by the data, the second or third hypothesis might be better. This cycle is the engine that lets science move forward. In Jeffrey’s x and y art, this connection, the productive cycle seems to be lacking. There is no indication that the x type art gets constrained and inspired by the y type art, or vice versa. The two art modes seem to be separate and don’t support one another.

This disconnect between concept and process art is, I think, a widespread condition of art today. The question is, how to meaningfully link x and y so that rather than having two modes of art, only one of which gives a satisfying finished product, the x and y modes can be joined together in a finished product that both the artist and the audience will want to hang on the wall?