Art as a consumable product. When we experience a piece of art, it is tempting to think that there could only ever be one version in the world. The song you’re listening to could surely only have sounded like this, could only ever have this tempo, could only be sung in this key. The picture you are looking at must have arrived fully formed – divine intervention flowed through the painter’s brush to the canvas in a single instant of inspiration. There was no practice involved and no research.
Art as a process. Of course the opposite is most often true – artists above all are experts at curiosity and playing with ideas. The curiosity and the playing results in countless versions of an idea until one day a version feels right (or is chosen by a company executive) to represent the artist’s vision.
Examples are everywhere – look at Bob Dylan’s countless versions of his most famous songs. Director’s cuts often differ wildly from the original film release. Look at Picasso’s obsessive research into the minotaur leading up to Guernica.
Curiosity and playfulness are where the real magic is. I think that this is important to remember, both as customers and as artists. These processes are not instantly gratifying, and can often be frustrating. But they are processes that we have to go through and we have to acknowledge to get the most from any piece of art.
Otherwise, there is a danger of art becoming a pre-packaged commodity. No back story. Nothing more to see.