Mother and Child

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”?

Three images from my playful “Springboard” project.

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.




  1. This is a very interesting post Judith!

    I did not know that this kind of art had a name. Thanks for introducing me to the term “Emergent art”. For me it’s mostly a drawing of an eye or the number 8. That is what emerges for me.

    As for being very aware while just sketching without a purpose; it’s mostly the sun, faces or a leaf.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Neurographic art” has been an interest process for me to explore, as well as the concept of “emergent art”. It’s fun to see what happens on its own while we’re drawing, isn’t it!

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  2. i absolutely love this piece…both vertical and horizontal. The horizontal looks like a wine glass sitting near a stained glass window- full of sweet wine, just enjoying a lazy after noon.The mother and child is a great interpretation as well. These are the kinds of pieces i did way before i ever even considered being an artist . But also-even when i slowly began to think of myself as one- it “emerged” into exactly what you are describing here ( with acrylics) . I’ll tell you why and it’s what i have told dozens of new artists( not that you are new , just that they were)…my first foray into art was a room left empty by my youngest moving out .My husband bought me a bunch of supplies for my “hobby” . I stared at that first canvas for weeks , afraid to mess it up. I couldnt wrap my brain around “wasting” it. Indeed my first few paintings took months. Eventually i saw the light, an epiphany. As long as i put the brush on the canvas it didnt matter what came after. I started painting without a plan and have ever since( again , only with acrylics- not water color). i love doing that!! Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Lovie. As a child, I did “scribbles and colors” very similar to this, but I was never told it was any sort of art. It was just scoffed at and see as a waste of time. I think this is one reason why it’s really been hard for me to accept anything beyond “representational drawing” as actual art. Doing my own personal “art therapy” has helped so much. I’ve gotten in touch with that “inner art child”. I’ve gone back to give “her” the positive experiences I never had. It’s really helping me get over all those “right and wrong” attitudes, giving me a chance to be free and expressive, to stop worrying about “doing it right” and just create art in a meaningful way. The last year has been a huge leap forward for me, and it’s made it possible for me to learn more and more. I’m experimenting a lot now with colors — and you’re quite an inspiration there. I love the way you play with colors in your art! I’m experimenting, too, with different media again, although still concentrating mostly on graphite, oil, and watercolor. The best part of my experience in this past year is that I’m getting excited by art all over again. I can’t wait to come to the studio each morning, not to “do art” but to “play”. It’s so much fun here.

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      1. Now, if only I had more time to play! Recently we’ve been so busy… an appointment yesterday, retinologist appointment for my husband today, driving 1-1/2 hours tomorrow (and 1-1/2 hours home) to visit my sister, dropping paintings off for the coming art show, meeting my granddaughter for lunch, picking paintings up…. and on and on it goes.

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  3. What bothers me is people trying to define what is an artist. If one does art, that should suffice. In fact, i believe we all do in some way.
    I don’t think any two people would do the same work of art following along the method you have described and therefore yes, it is creative. Why should intuitive be of less value than intellectual?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent question. There are so many different ways to define “art” — I think ultimately we each have to decide for ourselves what WE consider to be art, and that’s going to differ from one person to another. At some points since I’ve started learning to draw and paint, I began to feel that anything could be art… but that led to questions as to whether or not everything should be considered art. We’ll all be wrestling with the question of what art is for a long, long time. It makes for a lot of very interesting discussions. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

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