Process as Product
If you are old enough, you know the band The Flaming Lips from their rather bizarre 1993 college alt-rock single "She Don't Use Jelly". This is where I first heard them while attending Syracuse University. You likely know them now from the song "Do You Realize?" which has gotten massive airplay over the past few years and has helped to thrust the band into must-see status at the top of many critic's lists. You have no doubt seen lead singer Wayne Coyne walking along the arms of a crowd in a giant inflatable bubble. You have also heard of Trent Reznor, who, performing as Nine Inch Nails, also became big in the early 1990's and has stayed that way with his heavy industrial electronic based music. More recently, you know him because of the soundtrack he and Atticus Ross scored for the film The Social Network. You also know Chuck Close, the painter of portraits. He has been an internationally recognized artist since the early 1970's, and is most well known for giant oversize paintings of people, often using some kind of a modular grid or other segmented structure.
I often think of these three people together—Coyne, Reznor and Close—because I have an interesting relationship with their work. I would say I'm somewhat ambivalent about most of what they do, although I do quite like a few of their creations. However, what I do love is their process. I love their making, their creativity, their realization of form—be it music, video, performance, drawing or painting. I look at their output as merely a byproduct of their process. I know that logically any output is a byproduct of process, but to me what they are really doing, what they are striving for, is the process. The albums and paintings and performances are just the things they happen to end their process with.
This is something I really more suspect than can actually prove as I do not know them personally. I have heard interviews with all three people and there is something else going on beyond "I wanted to make an interesting painting" or "I had a nice sounding chord progression in my head." To me it sounds more like they have ideas of creating, of making, and wanted to see what happens when they act on it. Coyne spends time filming a kindly described "art film" called Christmas on Mars about Santa Claus in outer space. Reznor has broken from his record label and has released entire albums of experimental music for free online. Close sets up intricate systems of abstraction to create portraits that only make sense from far away, often working with a team of assistants as he is confined to a wheelchair.
There is something going on with these three men beyond the obvious trapping of their respective fields. Something I admire tremendously, but struggle to understand. There is something about them and their work that reminds me of color: defined yet completely undefined all at the same time. Also like color, I have a strange relationship with their work—I know it is there, but I often find enjoying it to be tedious. Yet, like color, there is a deep relationship beneath the surface I have a hard time quantifying.
I do not know exactly what I am trying to say here, but I do know this: I have plenty of Nine Inch Nails music on my computer, but I rarely listen to it. However, I feel better knowing it is there. I do not own any Chuck Close paintings, or reproductions, but I have seen him speak and I often reference him in design critiques. I have not listened to The Flaming Lips in many years but I did watch The Fearless Freaks, a documentary about them recently. Despite my lack of consumption, I selfishly feel more creative when I think about them. Even with my distant relationship with their work, they seem to influence me regularly.