...a working frame for discourse...

Process arts facilitate behavior based on an increased consciousness of how we do what we do, and develop and deploy tools for changing systems. Examples include: psychology, mediation, organizational development, group process facilitation, community organizing, and change management. Process arts frequently engage the imagination and use metaphors and exercises from one discipline to inspire new thinking in another. A few historical examples include: applying principles from the martial arts in a business context, conducting psychotherapy by way of somatic disciplines and theatrical improvisation, setting educational policy as though children were like machines and their behavior like a computer's operating system, and inviting people to conduct commerce through story telling, making purchases through association with provocative images more than by considering product details or their own systemic interests.

Changes in systems are fundamentally ambivalent and are potentially "in the end" both helpful and destructive. When I imply a maturation of the Process Arts I imply the entire developmental spectrum, from the most self-focussed to the most sophisticated, identifying as a field of study with a consensus ethics encouraging
  • auto-critical participatory practices which can be understood as psychological and mythographic and
    • connect operative ideas in a given culture and narrative system of thinking by noticing both difference and resonance,
    • track the ways idea-complexes are associated and interpreted into literal and metaphorical cultural consequences,
    • blend with both sympathy and conflict,
    • value eccentricity and develop distinctions,
    • lead to power-sharing and wider participation in the creation of culture-systems, and
    • deepen understanding of being human at both the individual and collective level.

What is not a process art?

A practice with an imbalance between process and task, such that insufficient attention devoted either to How the practice is happening or to What are the process' results.

What is the ethical test for a process art?

That process is unethical which, over time, is revealed to be primarily dedicated to realizing an agenda that does not include and work authentically to benefit all participants in its sphere of influence.


The distance between the definition of the process arts and the call for maturation is an ethical shift. The definition gives a sense of the width of disciplines that can be considered Process Arts and holds a central idea at the core of this field-defining process. But ethics are of central concern in the making of culture.

In the words of prolific dramaturge David Mamet, "the purpose of art is not to change but to delight...[not] enlighten [or] teach us...The theater exists to deal with problems of the soul, with the mysteries of human life, not with its quotidian calamities...While we have and occasionally use the capacity to let art veer toward and partake of that awe in the religion from which it was timely ripped, so we also have the capacity to pervert these impulses toward the dramatic, to oppress and to enslave each other. [Mamet inserts a note here: "as we exercise these impulses, we do not say we wish to "oppress and enslave"--we say we want to "help, teach, and correct." But the end is oppression."] On the one hand, we have Samuel Beckett. On the other hand, we have Leni Riefenstahl. They're both dealing with exactly the same human capacity to order the intolerable into meaning--one creates cleansing art, the other advertisements for murder"(Three Uses of The Knife pp 26-27). Like the theater, process-level education moves well beyond utilitarianism and expediency and into the Eros of relational learning.

Processes become Art with the releas of making change in favor of soul aesthetics -- discovering and encouraging beauty by association, the establishing of relationship, thereby clearing the way for change when it can happen from the need of the participants and thereby become both natural and sustainable.

This holds to the creative fire the feet of the enthusiast who equates the practice of Process Arts with goodness. Culture-making subtlety can result in peace and also in Nazi propaganda. Contra-industrialism, Utility (efficiency and scope) and Virtue are not identical. This discovery is the central reason Arts are needed in education.

Awareness of systemic dynamics gives a certain amount of control over culture-systems and process artists, professional salespersons for example, may use their tools to create systems which dominate choice making beneath the level of conscious awareness. Food products or persons desiring public office, for example, may be framed such that entire populations are not only excluded from decision-making but become habituated to choosing of a more and more tightly controlled and fabricated group of products which are in essence poisonous in the sense of being non-functional replacements for actual food or public service.

The given value of "insufficient attention" above, therefore, is not a hidden move towards a normative morality. On the other hand, inclusivity has ethical implications in that social justice directly depends on, and is directly proportional to the degree to which it is possible for any and all participants to choose to be fully involved at the creative, structural, systemic level. I argue, beyond the definition, that one can practice a Process Art and exclude certain people in order to gain greater control and power. This does not make the practice not a Process Art. It makes the practitioner unethical. This dilemma is familiar from all deep discussions of the use of power.

I abjure those practicing Process Arts as disciplines to structure the cultures made to maximize the motivation and capacity for ethical involvement and understanding of any participant in a given system. I believe the Process Arts are biased toward co-creativity, inclusivity, sympathy, and altruism. This is facilitated, at least at first and in part, by the idea of auto-criticality which suggests systems of thought and practice designed to expose their own flaws authentically and welcome difference and friction. In my experience it is difficult to have a completely functional feedback loop without full inclusivity. This often weary welcome rests only in the conviction that there are breaks in the conflict of different influences wanting different things, but never a surcease. Auto-criticality asks how rather than if my understanding of the needs in this sphere of influence is incomplete. This undermines the reflex to dominate in the face of incompleteness and gives way habitually to more sustainable responses to mortality and finitude than are currently the norm.

At the quantitative level, it is possible to empirically (based on direct experience) measure in a given system the choice making, kinds of metaphor and language, trends, etc. that make a practice more, rather than less, a process art. At the qualitative level Process Arts result in a felt sense and intuition that can inform analysis but need not become analytical, that leads to a synthetic phenomenology of association and inclusion, a shared narrative environment or mythology, that supports a peaceful "terrain" in which "conflict done well" and other dynamics which characterize ethical process arts are prevalent.

A clarifying contribution from my research on the shift that creates a process art.
From MediaCommons http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/about
"Our hope is that the interpenetration of the different forms of discourse will not simply shift the locus of publishing from print to screen, but will actually transform what it means to “publish,” allowing the author, the publisher, and the reader all to make the process of such discourse just as visible as its product. In so doing, new communities will be able to get involved in academic discourse, and new processes and products will emerge, leading to new forms of digital scholarship and pedagogy." [italics and links added - ed.]

I claim some space here to develop my own arguments but none of this is normative and I also will support anybody who feels moved to question, add, or struggle with related ideas. Anyone having given the Process Arts serious thought is more than welcome (and doesn't need my permission beyond sending them an invitation as an administrator) to make their own formulation and post it on this site.

- Brandon WilliamsCraig <brandon at processarts dot net>