Working on someone else artwork is a peculiar thing. The process highlights aspects of art making that in your own work, stay camouflaged by enthusiasm, anxiousness, excitement, boredom, or sheer panic. So the question is, what part of making is left when it is not your vision you are working on??
One very specific experience you get from assisting another artist’s practice, is the isolation of physical labor with in the art making process. For once your association with art is as mechanical as it can be. The exertion of the body is front row when your thoughts are quiet and detached. Maybe that is because there’s more of an emptiness in your head, which tends to fill up with physical sensations.
The idea is: You have an amplified awareness of your strength, weight and precision while you work. There is something significantly human about any activity that reconnects you with your body. It is a reminder of your own functionality. And with functionality comes the freedom of pace and repetition.
The truth is, a large amount of the time an artist spends is laborious; the more comfortable and appreciative the artists becomes with that time, the better. One of the most important lessons of being an assistant is learning the importance of “labor.” It is a great skill to be able to disconnect a bit from what you are doing so that you can actually do it. Lets face it, there’s usually a pretty ugly period during production when doubts creep in and you ask yourself “what is this thing?” But if you are properly committing to your ideas, and remaining flexible and aware you will progress as planned.
Being able to purely concentrate on work is not just good practice but along with your experience and self-awareness comes technical confidence. Soon you become invested more than ever, in the quality of the physical objects (or object-parts) and your ability to take on new tasks. I always thought that my ideas and ability to look for inspiration in the world was more a strength than my material skills but now I’m starting to feel a balance in my art muscles...
Becoming an artist that is an experienced laborer is useful in many ways. It may be applied through developing an ever-expanding technical skill set or understanding how to tune his or her own thoughts out long enough to make some serious progress. I was one of those artists that will sit and think and think and talk to every person in the studio before cutting down the stalk I need, well not anymore.
Making artwork is a mysterious mix of physical labor and inspired belief that we must balance during production in order to see things into reality.