Experiencing the creative process: narratives of visual artists
Setai, Phokeng Tshepo
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Creative expression is a concept that is integral to the functioning of artists. The ability to think creatively enables artists to devise innovative solutions to the numerous problems that they encounter in the process of art-making. Through creative expression, artists are able to transcend personal, interpersonal and social boundaries to communicate messages through their artwork that can change the nature of social reality for the people who experience the art. How the artist experiences the process of art-making will in return have an influence on the nature of the artistic product that comes out at the end of the art-making process. In this study, I use phenomenology as a principal lens to study the lived experiences of visual artists in the creative process of art-making. This study emerges from a narrative inquiry design, which is informed by the interpretive paradigm on which the study is embedded. In addition to using phenomenology as the main theoretical lens, I also made use of social constructivism, reflexive sociology, existential sociology and interpretive hermeneutics as subsidiary theoretical lenses to assist me in the process of acquiring understanding of the phenomenon under study. The phenomenon under investigation is approached according to a qualitative framework. This is because qualitative research orients people’s experiences at the centre of understanding social life. Fieldwork for this study took place over four months between June and September 2016 in Bloemfontein, the Free State Province. Non-probability and snowballing sampling were used to obtain the six male visual participants who composed the core research participant group of this study. The narratives of these individuals were elicited through the use of semi-structured interviews. In addition to this I made use of visual methodologies, namely, photo-elicitation, personal note-taking and documentation to accompany our discussions on their creative processes and artworks. Lastly, participant observation is a key research method that was used to arrive at an understanding of the unique experiences of each visual artist’s creative process. The data gathered is coded thematically and aspects of the dialogical approach are used to analyse it. The data is in line with the study’s primary and secondary research objectives and is presented and discussed in accordance to a total social science framework as proposed by Pierre Bourdieu. The findings suggest that creative and artistic people are as much subject to the influence of external forces as any other human subject. The creative process itself is affected by external circumstances that on the surface seem to have nothing to do with it. However, it is evident upon deeper reflection that the process of art-making relies on there being a balance between an artist’s external conditions and what he/she experiences within his/her creative process. The creative process of art-making for visual artists is one that mirrors their unique everyday experiences in social reality. The art that these artists create is a reflection of what they know, who they are, what they would like to become, their feelings and emotions, and the times and places in which they find themselves in the history of the world. This is the nature of social experience. There is always a subjective component to the experience that rests on objective circumstances for the verity of its existence. The creative process of art-making is a long process where an artist makes use of his/her lived-experiences in their totality; to create meaningful interpretations of social experience.