Process & Product

During my book arts class this summer, I was presenting my final project. "When I started, I wasn't sure why I wanted to work in miniature," I said, "but by the end of the project, it became clear to me what I was working toward and why."

One of the visual arts students in the room nearly gaped at me as I said it, and I think he may have even made some kind of response indicating his disbelief.

I realized then how different the process of a writer gets to be than most other artists. We often forge into the woods blindly, with perhaps some general sense of where we're going ("north"), but often times without a definite destination or path---or with the option to go off in an entirely different direction altogether.

Visual artists--particularly photographs, it seems to me--need to have a pretty good idea of what they want the product to be before they begin. So much of photography requires the creation of what is photographed: the manipulation of the object(s), lighting, position of the camera, etc. All of those decisions are often made before the camera even takes the photo. And then, in the development process, an additional set of decisions must be made in order to coax the negative into its final form.

For writers, revision is a sort of development process. I've often commented that I'm most comfortable revising like a sculptor, chipping away at poems until they've been reduced to their absolutely essential parts. By then, I usually have a good sense of what the final product needs to be: I've discovered it along the way, maybe by writing a certain line or using a certain word. Or, the poem in a context of other poems indicates its function/purpose/form.

Discovery and invention are such natural parts of poetry for me that, up until that moment, I'd never considered the ways in which other artists much approach the creation of their work. It makes me sort of glad that I can work in a genre that allows me to get up, go into the forest, and to just see what there is to see.


  1. I am not sure this is a "medium" thing so much as a personal thing, odd as that sounds. I don't go into the woods blindly nearly often enough when writing a poem. I do when drawing, singing & playing guitar, drumming. How interesting and sad to notice this, although I've long known it in other words: in drawing or making other art or music, I feel much more free to suck; I am able to get past any kind of watchdoggy inner editor. I "find" chords; I don't know the names of half of the ones I play. I only know the name of the E string, not what the others are. Poetry, I know too much. Too many filters. The poems I wrote at 17 were so much more free, could go anywhere, do anything. I'd like to get back to that, be able once again to do that--it's clear I have to if I want to write anything worth a damn. But I'm not sure how to do it, without becoming unhinged.

    Of course I get what you're saying about photography, etc.--makes sense.

  2. Seems to me that any creative approach can serve any art, but that certain arts have predilections toward certain approaches more than others. Thanks for shedding fresh light...