The Making of Well Made

By Vanessa van’t Hoogt

With a palette and fine brushes in her hand Elisabeth Geertruida Wassenbergh looks us right in the eyes.

She not only shows us her painting skill with the well-made small painting, but also offers us a glimpse into her creation process:  what colours she placed where on the palette and which brushes she used to apply the paint. Showing the creative process by the means of different media and techniques was and still is an important genre, the so-called showing making. To dedicate an exhibition to the process of making is a challenge the exhibition Well Made. In Praise of the Creative Process , which closes next week (April 17th), took on. This exhibition is a collaboration between the editorial team of the leading Dutch art journal Kunstschrift and the team of Kunsthal KAdE for the purpose of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the journal. As an intern, for the research master Art History, I was involved in the making of the exhibition. Kunstschrift published a lot of theme issues about the creative process over the last four decades and Well made reflects on this involvement. What are the challenges of making an exhibition about the creative process?

Artists, photographers and filmmakers have to find a balance between giving enough insight to the viewer to evoke curiosity and not exposing too much to keep the process mysterious. In order to produce an exhibition that displays the working process, the same balance has to be maintained. If too much is explained, categorized and clarified, chances are high that the exhibition loses its charm and  becomes too didactic or too theoretical. An unchronological display of artworks can do justice to the fact that the making of art is a theme from all times, starting at  30.000 BCE when pigments were spit through a straw to draw an animal on the cave wall. The similarities and differences between different creative processes become clear by showing them next to each other. For the exhibition, mythological stories about the origin of the arts, Prometheus, Daedalus, Icarus, Butades, Pygmalion, Zeuxis and Apelles, were chosen as an approach to introduce the visitor to the variety of materials, techniques and makers. This approach makes an ahistorical display possible that is sustained in the other parts of the exhibition: Showing a makeup-box dating back to 200 AD next to an contemporary polychrome bust by Hans Peter Feldman.

Artworks that are left unfinished, by choice or by chance, give an incredible insight into the creative process, because the traces of the creative act are clearly visible. As counterpart to this section of the exhibition nine finished artworks which explicitly and implicitly unveil the process that the artist underwent are on display. The thinking process is an important part of the creative process, visualized by an installation of Patty Struik. The visitor can enter ‘the brain’ of the exhibition where Struik’s assembled images from her archive raise associations and connotations and therefore make the viewer think about the making process. Last but not least the genre of showing making is an indispensable part of Well Made. In different media such as painting, drawing, engraving, photography and film, artists are shown by others or present themselves in the process of making. Documentary art forms that primarily focus on showing the creative process, such as the film cycle Schaffende Hände by Hans Cürlis, became in the course of time artworks in their own right with their own aesthetic qualities.

Overview of the exhibition Photograph by Peter Cox.

We are fascinated by the process of making because we can never quite grasp the whole process. When we think that we got it, it withdraws itself from us. We can see Wassenbergh’s palette and her brushes, but we still do not know how she set up her composition, how she prepared her canvas, how she applied the paint, what pigments she used and so on. In short, we would not be able to reproduce the painting by simply looking at the portrait. The same goes for an exhibition about the creative process:  it offers us a glimpse but cannot show the whole spectrum of the making of art.

 Vanessa van’t Hoogt studies the Research Master Art History at Groningen University.

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