I recently watched PJ Harvey making an album in a Perspex box in Somerset House; an event that offered me a tantalising glimpse at the artist’s process. I was in earshot of the pops, whizzes and bangs of creativity, dodging the sparks of ideas flying around the room. My face was lit by a thousand lightbulbs, my heart pounding at the thrill of being privy to these eureka moments. Of course, it was nothing like this at all. It was, for the most part, quite boring.
And that’s the problem with this idea of being a voyeur into the world of the creative, seeing how they go about making the things that eventually make us coo over their beauty or dance along to their sounds. Perspex box or otherwise the creative process is really quite boring, rather pedestrian, and the idea that people should be excited to watch it is, perhaps, a little silly.
The idea that creativity takes place in dynamic scenarios and finishes with an epic breakthrough moment is a myth perpetuated pretty much everywhere we turn. In the Instagram culture, everyone’s at it; whether it’s an artist carefully documenting their canvas coming together, a photographer revealing the shots that didn’t make the final edit, ‘making-of’ films, or make-up artists showing their impossibly beautiful clients only three-quarters tarted up. But while these purport to show us the reality of being a creative, what’s easy to forget is that these, too, are carefully crafted pieces of content. The ‘making-of’ film is still a film, the Instagram feed is still edited and tweaked, the images ‘haphazardly’ blogged by a print-maker have been selected. They look good. They keep us interested.
You know what doesn’t look that good, and wouldn’t keep us that interested? The real creative process. The long, drawn-out, frustrating reality of actually taking an idea and executing it. Behind the scenes it’s all a bit Wizard of Oz: there’s no magical wizard, but a little, metaphorical man with white hair behind a tatty green curtain.
At PJ Harvey’s Somerset House recording-an-album-in-a-box extravaganza there was a strange disconnect between the idea of her as a spectacle and the reality of the pedestrian, mundane reality of our presence. Recording an album is a slow process. While it’s interesting to see the numerous little fragments that will soon make up an album in their raw, unrealised form, the behind-the-scenes show isn’t a performance or an album, it’s someone doing their job. It’s a very cool job, but a job nonetheless. Writing about art and design is cool, but I’m very confident that anyone watching me tapping at a laptop and fiddling about with Post-it notes would get bored very, very quickly. It’s the same for any discipline. While the endless stream of process videos, exhibitions and photographs would have us believe there’s some sort of magic in the air while these clever, creative types work, there’s not. There’s patience, there’s inspiration, there’s beauty at the end, sure, but there are also a lot of hours and a lot of boring bullshit. You might be a fire-breathing contortionist, but the 1,000 hours of practice and the filling out of safety forms do not a circus show make.