Let’s start today with an exercise. Take a minute to close your eyes and just think about the word art. What comes to mind? It is great masterpieces by Monet and Van Gogh? Is it that popular print you wish you could get a hold of for your living room wall? Is the latest piece auctioned off for millions of dollars? If you imagined a painting or a drawing or a sculpture or really anything you could put your hands on if he museum staff would let you, I have something I want to talk about today. Because I think when we limit our concept of art to products that are made, we limit ourselves. We put this high expectation out there that no “normal” person can reach. And we make art something that we may like but we know is for someone else to create. What I challenge you with today is this: Let’s start thinking of art as a verb.
What is a verb?
I know we’re not all writers. We don’t all remember our eighth grade English teacher or the rules for grammar that she taught us, so I’ll give you a quick breakdown. A noun is a person, place, or thing. Generally, it’s something we can touch or experience with one of your senses (see, hear, taste, touch, smell). Your phone is a noun. Your child is a noun. Your lucky paint brush is a noun. (You mean I’m the only person with one of those?)
A verb, on the other hand, is an action. Something you can do. Run is a verb. Read is a verb. Spatter paint all over Humpty Dumpty is a verb (one that I quite enjoyed, if I do say so myself). Verbs are what make life something we live. A book is nothing if we don’t read it. Food is nothing if we don’t eat it. Can you even have a friend without hanging out, talking, or doing things together.
According to the dictionary, art is a noun. But why can’t we make it a verb. Or at least live like it’s one.
Art is experience
When we think of art as a noun, we think of it as a product. Something we buy. Something that goes in museums. Something that has nothing to do with how we live our lives unless it’s something pretty to look at. But when we do that, we are actually judging ourselves. We think that if what we create isn’t good enough to go in a museum or at least hang in the bathroom that it’s not real art. It’s not art at all. We don’t think that we, whoever we are, could be an artist.
Let’s flip that. What if we thought about art as a verb? As something we DO. It’s not about the picture that you paint but the act of painting that is art. It’s not the valuable vase sitting in the Smithsonian but the process – holding the clay in our hands and shaping it. It doesn’t matter what the shape is at the end of the day, whether it’s lopsided or something we smash back into a lump to shape again another day.
What if we could set our minds on the action rather than the product? Action is something we can all do. We don’t need to worry about what it looks like when we are done.
Process over produce
When it comes to kids’ art, people already get this. It’s called process art. It’s about the process of making art rather than the product itself. Process art says finger-painting on a table and then washing it off is just as much art as an owl made from cupcake liners. More so, even. It means that making footprints on a long strip of paper is art that kids do rather than art that kids make. And it doesn’t matter what the finished product looks like. As long as the experience is embraced.
So why do we put pressure on ourselves as adults to create a product rather than enjoying the process?
Sometimes I think we’re all a little to focused on outcomes. At least when it comes to art, I’d like to see people, adults and kids alike, think more about the experience than what comes of the experience. In 2020 and going forward, I’m going to encourage you to art. To enjoy the process, whatever it is, and not worry so much about being able to hang the product on your wall. It may never catch on to say I’m going to art this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change our attitude about the word. Let’s live, love, and art a little more each day.