How to Combat Anxiety by Replacing Output with Process

How do we transfuture the university? How do we combat the anxiety we have and feel as students, tutors, professors and staff members?

Transfuturing: a neologism made from transforming and future.

In the coming months students from the MA Home of Performance Practices, want to address the Future of the Art University based on their experience and observation of a high level of anxiety with students, professors and tutors within education. 

With this Open Call we reach out to individuals who have experienced anxiety in education and aim to collect their thoughts and proposals that encourage people to doubt and design ‘better’ futures.

This project is a collaboration with ArtEZ studium generale (Future Art School), ArtEZ Press and the Professorship for Art education as Critical Tactics at ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem.

The following text is one of the contributions to the project Transfuturing the University. Find more info here


Abstract: I explore how the anxiety that comes from focussing on output can be combatted by embracing process. I propose that the final craft object be removed completely and replaced with an unending process achieved through the operations of ‘doing’ and ‘undoing.’ So, the only outcome of a creativity is that there is no outcome.


There’s no minute like the very last minute. The last minute before the deadline, before the jump, before the end. The final sprint when you are at your most focused, most creative, and most filled with adrenaline. This last minute is the compounded climax of every ounce of anxiety, stress and panic present in your body throughout the process of making. But what if there was no last minute? What i­f there were only minutes? Minutes upon minutes. Endless minutes. Infinite minutes. No last minute because there was no deadline, no expected output. What if there was only process?

The last few years have seen a move towards focusing on the process rather than the outcome. This approach encourages people to enjoy the process as a way of arriving at an outcome that is less stressed and more inspired. While I see merit in this proposal, it is not fool proof. The flaw in this idea is its inclusion of an output. While I recognise that, by our own construction, the expectation of outputs and products in the world as we know it will always be necessary for the functioning of a Western, capitalist society, I also believe that the inclusion of a process-focused approach will be beneficial to people’s health and well-being. Particularly within arts education, I insist that we need to reassess and reformulate how we engage with the anxiety surrounding deadlines. I believe this can be done by eradicating output and replacing every iteration thereof with process.

From my perspective as a crafter and researcher, the last few years have seen a rise in craft, craftivism, and the embrace of the slow process inherent in these artforms. Coined by Betsy Greer in 2003, craftivism uses crafting techniques like embroidery and knitting as a form of activism. Its popularity has been growing as artists and makers move towards traditional forms of crafting that have been passed down through generations.

In her book How to Be a Craftivist (2017), author and craftivist Sarah Corbett describes craftivism as a tool ‘to engage deeply and critically with the issues you care about.’1 Serving as more manual than theoretical investigation, Corbett’s approach to craftivism is only the beginning of what can be done with and through craftivism. While Corbett does dedicate a section of her book to the ‘Power of Process,’2 her assessment of the underappreciated power of process is completely undermined by her consistent return to a final output and it becoming ‘a pretty little thing.’3

While I support her insistence on craftivism as slow activism, I contend that its strength exists in more than its attachment to an outcome. In my M.A. thesis, ‘Uncrafting Worth: Using Crafty Labour to Renegotiate Worth’ (2022), I interrogate the relationship between crafter, crafting process, and craft object within crafting. I offer a new subsection to craftivism called crafty labour, which sees the crafter, object and process as equally important, allowing for the renegotiation of the worth of bodies to occur.

However, in striving to combat anxiety within arts education, I propose that the final craft object be removed completely and replaced with an unending process achieved through the operations of ‘doing’ and ‘undoing.’ Thus, the focus on producing something infinitely oscillates from the action of making to the action of unmaking, resulting in a person who is focused on the present moment rather than how an object may be perceived or valued. It is no longer about how well one makes but rather the feeling of making—the being with the materials.

Below, I offer some steps as an example of how to combat anxiety by replacing output with process:

  1. Choose a crafting technique like knitting, punch needling or crocheting (it is not important that you know the ‘correct way’ of doing this crafting technique).
  2. Do the craft.
  3. Undo the craft.
  4. Do the craft again.
  5. Undo the craft again.
  6. Continue steps 2–5 until your anxiety subsides.

Some things to be aware of and think about:

  • How do you sit when you are doing and undoing?
  • How do your hands feel and move?
  • Where do your thoughts go?
  • How does your breath sound? How does it feel?
  • Are you able to visualise your anxiety sitting next to you?
  • How does it feel to craft knowing that it will exist ephemerally?

Without a final object or product, there is no expectation. And without expectation, there is no stress. This approach to combatting anxiety focuses on being present with oneself and the task at hand. It reveals that we can exist in the world without an attachment to producing a final object. Here, the only outcome is that there is no outcome, thus never something to be assessed by value.

Andrea van der Kuil

Andrea van der Kuil is a crafter, production designer, performance artist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is at the end of a two-year M.A. at ArtEZ University of the Arts, the Netherlands, where she has been investigating the notion of worth in relation to the female crafter.

Bibliography

Bibliography

  • Sarah Corbett, How to Be a Craftivist. London: Unbound, 2017.
References
↑ 1

Sarah Corbett, How to Be a Craftivist (London: Unbound, 2017), p. 1.

↑ 2

Corbett 2017, p. 35.

↑ 3

Corbett 2017, p. 230.