Today’s topic is “emergent art”, a concept I’ve been thinking more about since my recent post on “boxes”. If, as artists, we’re feeling stuck in a box, one thing we should do is become aware of what emerges on its own, the images that appear seemingly of their own volition. Call them accidental, if you will, or call them subconscious. They are purely unintentional, what I refer to as simple happenstance.
Here is a good illustration of emergent art. As you can quickly see, it is part of my 100-Day “Creative Project” with neurographic art.
The story behind “Mother and Child” (as I’ve come to call it) is quite interesting, I think. Before I share that story, allow me to digress for a moment first and go back to the whole concept of “emergent art”.
In many respects, I don’t like that term. I am, however, using the term with a slightly different meaning than it’s usually given. If you search for “emergent art”, you’ll find definitions centered around individual expression. You’ll read about how the internet today makes it possible for “artists” of all different varieties to come forward, to share, to make a contribution to the world of art regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or training.
In that sense, I guess I could be called an “emergent artist”. When I consider the term from that standpoint, I see something almost akin to “folk music”. We can call it “folk art” if we want, but that definition leads us in a slightly different direction. What we know as “folk art” is generally based on cultural traditions. When I think of “folk” — as in folk music or folk art — I think of something that simply comes from the heart, something natural that just comes up and out and into the world. Folk music, for instance, was sung to share experiences with the world, not as a means of creating beautiful music. I find it one of the purest and most authentic forms of vocal music because of its essential truths.
For me, however, “emergent art” is more about unplanned creativity. It’s not an attempt to express any thoughts or feelings. In contrast with “folk” music or real “folk” art, my version of emergent art is the antithesis of authentic self-expression.
As a child — and even into my adult years — I liked to pick up a pencil or pen and pretend to draw. That was all I could do. I would just start making marks with no conscious thought of drawing anything in particular. But then I’d look at the marks I’d made and think, “Oh, that looks like a fish,” or “Gee, I’ve drawn a flower here.” All the while, I knew that had I sat down with pencil and paper and attempted to draw either a fish, a flower, or anything else that had “emerged” from my hesitant lines, I could not have done it.
For me, this sort of “emergent art” was confirmation that I was not an artist. Sometimes I wished I could show one of my little “emergent drawings” to someone and claim to have drawn it, but that would have been a lie. It would have made me an impostor had I taken credit for any of my little flowers, fish, or figures. I’d just happened — without trying — to put a few lines in the right place, then with the power of imagination I was able to “see” something emerging.
That’s what I refer to when I speak of emergent art. It could be described as creating something without even knowing it. And that was exactly what happened with my neurographic “Mother and Child.”
Now to the story behind the painting. Clearly this is a page from my 100-Day Project Sketchbook. Each morning I come to the studio, pick up my mixed media sketchbook, grab a Sharpie and start another neurographic drawing. I then take my set of “Mermaid Markers” and color in what I’ve drawn. Before I begin, I turn to a list of “art therapy” suggestions. I choose one topic or project to serve as inspiration. Some are quite do-able in the context of neurographic art; others are much less so.
The therapy suggestion that day was to do a self-portrait — actually a past and present self-portrait. I rolled my eyes, put the whole idea out of mind, and grabbed my project sketchbook. Neurographic art is not about drawing anything — especially not self-portraits, and the idea of creating a past and present self-portrait was something I really didn’t even understand. It was not at all anything I wanted any part of doing.
So, I just took my Sharpie, made my lines, followed the procedure of “rounding off the sharp edges” and then began coloring. Now, the page orientation was this:
I hated this! I felt this was absolutely the worst page I’d done since starting the 100-Day Project. In other posts, I’ve touched upon the fact that I’m finding neurographic art quite challenging. It does not soothe me, nor does it relax me. It makes me nervous, anxious, and frustrated.
The one thing I do like about this art form is its colorfulness, or at least, my opportunities to make colorful art. (I’ve done some that are not so bright and colorful). So I focused on playing with my markers, making stripes of color in places, creating a very bright background, letting colors run a bit here and there.
When I was finally done, I was ready to put neurographic art aside. I berated myself for making such a “stupid, ridiculous drawing”, and wondered again why I’d chosen such a meaningless project. I was not enjoying the process.
And then as I picked up my sketchbook to put it away, I shifted the orientation, and that’s when I saw — quite clearly — the unmistakable vision of a mother and child. Now, I know where this comes from. Do you remember the very imaginative watercolors I made based on Mary Cassatt’s painting, “The Child’s Bath”?
It’s the colorful stripes, of course, that are similar in my neurographic drawing, and the relative positions of the mother figure and the child. Here, again, is my neurographic “Mother and Child”.
All I could do was sit and stare and wonder how this image had occurred. It had simply emerged on its own. So, do I dare take credit for this? Do I boldly show it off and proclaim that I created this image? I did, but yet, I didn’t.
Believe me, when I then thought back to the “Past and Present Self-Portrait” suggestion, my mind was totally blown. Obviously I did create this image, but at a wholly subconscious, intuitive level. I could never have set about to create the image of a mother and child and come up with anything like this. Now, maybe it’s not beautiful in a conventional sense. It is, however, creative, colorful, imaginative, and expressive.
So, how did this happen? And more to the point, does the fact that this happened make me more or less of an artist? Does this sort of “emergent art” suggest that I have creative talents waiting to be discovered? Or does it mean, once again, that I’m only an impostor when it comes to art, that anything good I create just happens by accident?
Unlike my feelings in earlier years, I now want to believe that this “emergent art” is a sign of creativity. I want to think that the artistic sensibilities I’ve developed over these last few years have taken me to a point where creative expression is natural, that it’s part of my subconscious in a powerfully good way.
But maybe I’m wrong. Even so, I think it’s good to be aware of what “emerges” on its own in our art.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this drawing and on the creative process from which it evolved.