A Work in Progress: The Life Cycle of Art

Whether art is written on a bar napkin at 2 a.m. or a masterpiece placed behind museum glass, they each have a creation, life, and demise.

Even if they are carefully preserved, the process is merely slowed, giving us time to reflect and enjoy the artwork. The eventuality of time washes away the work we have done, whether etched in stone or drawn in the sand. The mortal nature of artwork reflects much of ourselves in this way. 

Insparado; where does art come from?

First artwork must be born. This can happen in a variety of ways. There can be a sudden strike of inspiration, bursting like lightning into whatever is nearby. Whatever medium is nearby then becomes the vessel for the artwork. A poet will recite the dawn as it appears on the horizon, or the rising moon, impressed with the moment. 

Artwork can also be born from the careful and intentional ritual of the artist. The artist might gather their particular brushes, play particular music within a room dedicated to the creation of their art. The ritual aspect of art helps create focus and concentration, letting the artist dilate into their craft and imagination. This method brings the risk of creating resentment for the source of any distraction, whether it be a cat asking for dinner, or a loved one interrupting the artistic process. 

There are other methods for art to be created, as varied as the artists who create them.

Artwork isn’t always finished quickly, or completely. Once a layer of paint is applied, the artist might stand back and plan the next steps. The outlines are stretched, then additional layers, and sometimes it is painted over and the work starts again. Progress can be slow, and the completion of artwork can take years. For example, The Rose by Jay DeFeo (see below) took 8 years to make, and included 2000 lbs. of paint. Her method, which could be considered an obsession, involved building up and then removing layers of paint.

Once art is born it then finds its way into human society. It can be given as a gift or displayed for purchase. It can be used as signage, decoration of a culture, or used in the industry of commerce. Digital art for example is used for posters, flyers, advertisements, and communication. Art can also be used to express social change, rage, injustice, beauty, and every other emotion within the human mind. This can take the form of graffiti, music, spoken word, or interpretive dance. 

Sometimes a newly hatched piece of artwork crawls from place to place, being sold or traded. Sometimes artwork is hung in a single place, reflected upon and discussed, or tucked away quietly into a dusty corner. 

For the artist, seeing their artwork can become painful after a while. Their ability to see and create are often separate skill levels. They can see what needs to be changed yet are unable to do so. Their perception criticizes the pieces and their hands fumble. So, the artwork can hang on a wall and teach the artist through reflection. While the artwork is not what the artist imagines, the artist can grow to accept what they made. I think part of being an artist means practicing in public, so acceptance and turmoil is part of an artist’s growth, and likewise their artwork. 

Next is the decay of the artwork. This perhaps starts immediately but is not noticed until the paint fades or the bar napkin disintegrates. Some artists use methods to preserve the work like varnish spray on paintings or sealant over paper. Some artists sculpt from stone or create digital images which can endure longer. Their files can be copied, their sculptures cast and reproduced. This method does prolong the decay process, adding many years to the life of a piece of artwork. 

For a poet greeting the dawn, the words dissolve quickly, and disappear into fleeting moments. Tattoos will age and decay with human skin. Graffiti will also fade in the sunlight or be painted over. Fashion will change with the seasons, and the styles of yesterday will be deconstructed to make the expressions of tomorrow.  

So far nothing is immune to apathy or neglect. Even if a piece of artwork survives the centuries, society and people change. What was important becomes ignored. What was valued becomes discarded.  When no one remembers why a piece was important, or why the piece was placed on the walls of a museum, the artwork is replaced.  There are mountains of unread novels, rivers of poetry lost in the ocean of language, and dark skies of unseen masterpieces. 

Regardless, all artwork returns to the indistinct and vague, appearing no different than the stone it was sculpted from or the blank page the words were written on. 

To me as an artist, the temporary nature of artwork makes the process easier, letting me play and practice without the burden of eternity. However, for others, their art is a legacy, an immortality they can invest in, a greatness beyond their years. It is perhaps from this sense of urgency that great works are created, to push into the boundary of time, to avoid decay, if only for a moment. 

These opinions come from the years Raymond Street has served as a Normandy Park Art Commissioner, a grant writer and artist for the Mural Masters Graffiti festival, a previous Burien Art Walk organizer,...