Most people do not get to see art.
What people get to see in museums and books is certainly art, but by another definition, those are only the evidence that art happened.
As the twelfth of sixteen definitions listed in the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, art is the “skilled workmanship, execution or agency as distinguished from nature.” Art as a process is what most people don’t get to see. It’s the decisions, training and experiences that the artist brings to process that go unseen.
It has been my favorite analogy that being an artist is to be a kind of chef. Like a chef, an artist has a talent for her/his business, learns the tricks and develops the skills to be good enough to make it a defining part of her/his life, if not a career. Colors are like ingredients, flavors you learn how to combine. You also learn techniques like bouncing the tip of your paintbrush on a canvas to make representations of little pine trees.
Some times in the process, you stop following the recipe and start playing with ingredients and trying things because you think it will taste good. When I’ve drawn things, I can’t always say why I’ve chosen certain colors or put down particular lines, except that at the time I thought they’d look good.
I once had a job for five years in which I sat in a Main Street shop in Disneyland and drew and painted Disney characters to order for wristwatch faces. There on stage, I certainly had modest audiences watch me fulfill an order for a painting of Cinderella. However, because people don’t pay to get into the park to watch that, they’d only get to see but a few minutes of what I was doing, bits of art. I imagine that it was like a magic trick: a slow magic trick making something out of nothing. A slow magic trick with not much of a finish, because after the drawing part, the painting was the embellishment, and once the rabbit is out of the hat, combing its fur doesn’t make the trick better.
I have also performed as a quick sketch artist at parties and as a guest art instructor conducting how-to-draw sessions. In both, but especially with the later case, I’ve resorted to memorized recipes. Because I was not called upon to do anything original, there was almost no creative, decision making, and it had about as much art to it as there was in making a peanut butter and jam sandwich.
I’m not advocating that people should see my process of art. It’s acceptable and fine that people like and enjoy the evidence of my art with out really considering the process. I, in fact, do the same, past my quick, competitive evaluations. I’m there when I’m doing art, and I can say that most of the time, it’s rather technical and boring, but necessary to get to the art at the end, the proof that art happened.