Process & Product

This is not true for every hand lettering artist, but I have very nice handwriting. When I'm jotting down a quick note, it's in a modified Rennaisance style, Italic (the origin of italicized text). The first time someone sees me write this way, it's rather predictable: "Your handwriting is beautiful! I wish I could write like that." Today, I want to explore that statement: "I wish I could...."

When you see a work of art, you cannot experience it in full. As the viewer, you can only experience a fraction of the real work: the product. The invisible remainder is the process. When I learned this, I felt like it was putting into words what I knew and felt my whole life. If you hear a three-minute song, you’re not watching the experiences I had to go through to produce the thoughts in the song or watching me fumble with chord shapes on the guitar. When you see a piece of lettering I made, you didn’t see the four years I’ve had up to now learning and growing my calligraphy and lettering skills. And when you see my handwriting, you don't see the chicken-scratch it used to be, and the many carpel-tunnel hours it took to transform it into something smooth and flowing.

What I hear when people say they wish they could write like me is a desire for the product without the process. They want to be good at it already. They love the idea of having handwriting like mine. There is so much work and conversation and thought that goes behind every piece of art.

This concept—process and product—I have begun to see in my experience with intentional community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “He who loves community, destroys community; he who loves the brethren creates community.” If all you want is the product, but you aren’t dedicated to the process, which is loving as Christ did, you won’t get either one.

Isn’t it so easy to love the idea of community? Everyone can read a lot of popular Christian books and attend a lot of trendy church services that talk about community and what that would look like. Everyone agrees that community is beautiful, and you get a nice feeling after doing all that thinking about community. Yet as I’ve spent the last eight months in the thick of it, it’s been much less exciting and romantic living in rather than talking about community. It isn’t very fun to see your personal and spiritual faults marching into plain view. You see where you are so different from the people you're living with, inconceivably different, so different that it must be irreconcilable. Once you've reached that conclusion, it's ever so much easier to stuff away the problems you have with your housemate. That is, until the boiling point is reached and you have a massive, uncomfortable conflict resolution session.

This is the process of community, and as with the process of art, it’s basically a mess, and you spend about half the time cursing the fact that you have to do this work. Because you thought it was going to be kind of hard, but mostly just great. And then what you find out is that it's mostly hard, and the trendy Christian books didn't tell you how disproportionately hard it is. The kind of pain you feel when something so unimaginable as someone leaving becomes a reality.

But then….

When the storm passes, when the rain stops, and when the battle is over, you look around and realize you're still there, and these people are still with you, there's this sliver of light coming through. And the more you think about it, the wider the sliver gets. Your community survived what you thought it couldn't, and in fact, they all love each other.

At the other side of that pain, that process, you get to see what those trendy Christian books were talking about when they talked about community. Vulnerability, supporting each other, helping each other to grow as people, even enjoying being with each other—you realize that this is the product of community. After committing yourself to the process of loving each other, you get the product. But you can't have the product without first sticking through the process.

Next time, think about what it means to say, "I wish I could make art like that," or, "I wish I lived in community." Are you committed to the process or the product?

Where have you found joy in the process in your art and your faith? Comment below. Be sure to subscribe to the art&faith newsletter to get notified whenever a new post is up.