by Kim Grant. Penn State University Press, March 2017. 296 p. ill. ISBN 9780271077444 (h/c), $74.95.
Reviewed September 2017
True to its title, Kim Grant’s All About Process deals extensively with the history and theory of artistic process. Her central argument is that process has gone largely unexamined by art historians, despite its centrality to modern and contemporary art. Incrementally since the nineteenth century, process supplanted the artwork as the source of meaning. All About Process traces how process has been theorized by artists, philosophers, critics, and historians. The book begins with a fascinating historiography from antiquity through the nineteenth century that includes Aristotle, Giorgio Vasari, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, William Morris, and many others. The nineteenth century serves as a point of departure for Grant (e.g. French painting and Arts and Crafts) as artists are shaped by and react to well-established phenomena: dehumanization as a consequence of mass industrialization, the rejection of the academic style, and tensions between craft production and fine art.
What follows is an exhaustive analysis of modern and contemporary artistic process. All About Process can be broken into three broad categories/periods: the emergence of process as a serious concern alongside the artwork (nineteenth until mid-twentieth century); equal concern for process and the artwork (mid-twentieth century); and the foregrounding of process over the artwork (1960s through present). Each chapter engages primary source material—artists’ writings, critical appraisals, philosophical texts—and existing scholarship. For example, Henri Matisse’s 1908 publication “Notes of a Painter” emerges as a key articulation “of the modern artist’s process of creating an artwork as a constantly negotiated balance between abstract formal requirements and expressive concerns.”
All About Process is at its best in the early chapters where Grant focuses on a smaller number of artists and thinkers. The narrative becomes increasingly complicated in the 1960s as more artists and writers concerned themselves with artistic process. Frankly, it can be difficult to keep track of the scads of philosophers and attendant theories referenced. Additionally, the universalist aspirations of the predominately white, male figures discussed leads to a striking dearth of female artists and people of color. Grant acknowledges this serious problem and, late in the book, argues that feminist artists, such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Carolee Schneemann, and Liza Lou, challenge the dominant culture. Ultimately, Grant leaves us with the impression that the pendulum has swung too far towards process. Once a rejection of the commodified art object, process-focused art has perhaps been uncritically accepted, or at least insufficiently articulated, as a rebuke to late capitalism.
All About Process contains a helpful index and extensive bibliography, in addition to endnotes; there are no illustrations. This book is essential for libraries supporting graduate programs in art history or curatorial studies and is recommended for schools of art and design.