Process in Dallas Art, Process in Dallas Life

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Saturday night in Deep Ellum the gallery scene was busy. Cohn Drennan Contemporary opened its doors with Dan Allen's scrapbook, a photography exhibit chronicling the alternative music scene in Dallas, specifically featuring portraits of the punk, gothic, and riot girl musicians and fans. Visitors overflowed into the street, while the dj spun records, drinks were poured for tips, and Allen signed book copies.

A quick trek up Commerce St., in the space shared by The Public Trust and Liliana Bloch Gallery, visitors filtered in for the first night of Tim Best's voyeuristic collages inCrush and then caught a final glimpse of Matthew Mahon's Under, a photographic series that casts an open eye on the women working in the sex industry.

Bloch filled her nook at the front of the space with Best's intricate, mysterious collages in which the twists and turns of tree trunks and branches obscure images both violent and sexy. "When I went for a studio visit, I was worried," Bloch, the Salvadoran gallery owner, admits. "His process is not as beautiful as the final product."

Across town, two plays are currently in world premiere runs at Second Thought Theatre and Kitchen Dog Theater. Both playwrights workshopped the pieces locally before official runs. Last year, Matt Lyle's Barbecue Apocalypse was a staged reading at KDT's New Works Festival; Steven Walters and Erik Archilla were recipients of a TACA new works grant that allowed them to fully develop and produce their historical drama/thriller Booth.

So if local theatergoers had been paying attention last year, they had the opportunity to participate - in a small way - in the growth of the art, in the process.

It's easy to think of art as a product, something fully realized. It wasn't until the 20th century that the process itself became part of the art, thanks to movements like DADA that accepted the chaos of art, with complete disregard for aesthetics. Art no longer had to be visually appealing to be worthwhile, because artists were rejecting ideals, making room for messy visceral, pure human expression.

Sure, the process was always there, but the brushstrokes were tools to create the art, they weren't the art itself. With these new ideas in mind, for a half-century artists have been creating work with visible seams, playwrights have been exposing the actor behind the character.

This emphasis on process gives outsiders an entry point into art. It allows the narrative of artistic creation to be a piece of the artwork itself. It allows donors or buyers a window into the creation of the work they're donating money too. It gives audiences a way to understand why on earth someone would be interested in John Wilkes Booth as a protagonist. This concept of open studios and public workshop sessions gives the work added value, because when you're looking at a collage you can't write it off as an "art project." When you're laughing at a joke, you can recall how unfunny you found the first iteration of that punchline.You can't spit cliches out, like "My five year old can do that." Artists are craftsmen and putting an idea or a vision out into the world is brave and really fucking hard. Learning about art won't be learning to love everything, but you'll come to admire the process.

The night previous, Sally Glass closed her MFA thesis exhibition, A History of Laziness, which was primarily a recreation of an apartment sitting room, with walls lined with books she, presumably, read for school. Old school jams were playing (I remember hearing Mariah Carey during my time in the room) and visitors would sit on her couch. It was a reminder that art is everywhere, that art is process, and that life is process. Perhaps that final point is most important of all. Life is process. Art is process. Life is art.

Certainly, this was what was going through my head, as sweat dripped down my lower back when I was stuffed amongst the people at Cohn Drennan, many of whom were clearly part of the punk scene Allen photographed. Allen turned the artistic lens onto these people's lives and there they were, decades later hanging on the wall. This idea of the cycle of artistic process made me smile and as I did, I saw out of the corner of my eye that someone was taking my picture.

Catchscrapbook at Cohn Drennan Contemporary through June 21. Catch Tim Best's Crush at Liliana Bloch Gallery through July 6.Barbecue Apocalypse runs through June 21.Booth runs through June 15.

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