Part four in a  four part series by Wesley Hurd MFA, Ph.D


The Process of Making Art


At least two levels characterize the artist’s effort to make art. The first level is a composite of three essential components of a work of art: (1) the artist must competently control the craft of his medium; (2) she must seriously engage the historical development and “conversation” in her genre; and (3) she must meld both craft and grasp of her medium’s current philosophical/theoretical developments with his own vision of life. The effort to engage all three elements simultaneously forms the greatest challenge to anyone wishing to make successful, serious art.3


The second level of the artist’s effort takes a concept, sensibility, and/or belief and extrudes it through his creative imagination (conscious and subconscious, or tacit, intelligence). The artist then chooses a form (words, marks made with pigment, or other medium) that seems appropriate to her vision of the art piece.


Melancholia I by Albrecht Durer, 1514, Engraving

Most of the time all of this happens in a“dialectic”—a back-and-forth inner dialogue between the artist’s conscious effort and his subconscious or intuitive effort. Often this process is a rather mysterious, inarticulate exploration. On one side, the artist explores, laying down thought forms in words, sounds, images, body movements, spaces, etc. On the other, the artist steps back and, using every fiber of intellection, assesses whether his or her last compositional edit or addition was successful or not.


As artists mature in their work, they become more sure-handed and able to judge their own success at accomplishing their artistic aims. Their grasp of themselves and their own artistic process matures (though much may remain tacit), allowing them to produce better, more powerful, successful work.


Inevitably, the challenge of being human—mind and body—reveals itself in an artist’s body of work. Human art evidences thought and belief in the “action” or results of art making. Because this is true, art making loads the deep, subjective (invisible) realities of our humanness—ideas, feelings, beliefs—into physical/material (visible) forms.


How this all happens can be a bit mysterious. Artists will tell you, “I know a great deal about the development of a particular piece of art,” but they will also say, “How did I do it?!” Robert Henri argues, “A real artist’s work is a surprise to him or her” (The Art Spirit, p. 264).


Purpose in Art


Art can “light fires” in us. If you have not experienced this power of art yourself, then perhaps you have a family member, a friend, or a child whose life is deeply affected by art or music or film. The work of all great art is to break into our lazy routines. Art’s messages can result in new conditions or motivations for thinking about being alive in this present world. It can be another voice to instruct us on the obligations of being human.


At its best, art is high creative intelligence. But it cannot be reduced to or encapsulated in propositional cognition alone. Great art steps beyond ordinary human communication and becomes a different, potent means for us to say things about ourselves, about our world. It is another way to explore for what is true, valuable and worth giving our lives to.


Looking for the beginning of this series? Start here.