In this article, I want to start an investigation about the creative processes of artists and the knowledge used in creating art. Let me start by introducing the concept of analytical spaces.
In a previous article I have described the concept of analytical spaces, developed by my friend Kurt Ammon, as a theory of knowledge. Amon views knowledge and the objects it refers to as developing together and he exemplifies this with an example from engineering:
If a team of engineers has developed a new product such as a car or an airplane which is put on market, weak points of such a product are recognized after some time and the product is revised and improved. This process is repeated many times. The knowledge of the engineers about the product and the product itself form analytical spaces. At any given point in time, the engineers have only incomplete knowledge about the product, which is revised and extended through experience. The product serves as the basis for the construction of new knowledge. The accumulated knowledge forms the basis for revising and improving the product. Thus, there is a coevolution of the knowledge and the product, i.e. the knowledge, the product and the interaction between the knowledge and the project run through an evolution process. This cyclic structure also applies to earlier stages of the product development process.
(from: “The Automatic Developments of Concepts and Methods“ by Kurt Ammon (University of Hamburg, 1987), p. 76.)
At any time, the knowledge we have is incomplete and the objects we are interacting with have some properties we don’t know. Parts of our knowledge that are consistent, together with the objects they refer to, form analytical spaces. Knowledge develops through processes of division and unification of analytical spaces.
This concept can be applied to art. We can look both at the creation of art by an artist and at the reception of art by the viewer.
An artist, at any point of his artistic life, has a certain body of knowledge about his or her art. This knowledge consists of different components. There is visual knowledge that enables the artist to perceive structure in what he sees, in his environment, in works of art, in his own works including the ones he or she is just working on. Only a part of this knowledge is explicit and can be verbalized. Secondly, there is knowledge of how to do things, including knowledge of crafts and procedures down to knowledge controlling movements of the body, especially the hands. A lot of this knowledge can be thought of as procedural, and probably only a small part of it can be explicitely explained and verbalized by the artist.
Then there may (or may not) be knowledge on a semantic level, connecting the artist’s work to other areas of life and the world.
Typically, artists will develop an “artistic conception” integrating these different types of knowledge, I am taking the concept from from the book “Probleme der Bildästhetik”, Concept Verlag, Düsseldorf, 1972, by Karl Otto Götz and Karin Götz (also known by her artist’s name Rissa) – Götz is writing there about “Künstlerische Konzeption” (artistic conception (in the video above, you can see Götz painting). Works of art arise by applying this conception and the different types of special knowledge controlled by it to raw materials. In many cases, not all perceivable properties of these works are controlled by the artist’s conception. Typically, the emerging works have more properties than are described and controlled by the knowledge of the artist. They contain surprising or unexpected, new elements. The artists might eliminate these and correct the work. Another possibility, however, is to embrace these properties of the work and let them be. In perceiving them, they may alter the knowledge of the artist. His or her perceptive or procedural knowledge might be extended. The process of art can thus be described as a learning process in the Ammonian sense.
In the example with the engineers, the solutions to the technical problems are constrained. To an extent such constraints might also be there for the artist, constraints originating from economic requirements or from other aspects of society. But the artist might also be free to set his or her artistic “problem” or task without such outside pressure, as part of the artistic conception. The result is an analytical space that not only describes some objects but defines and creates them. The only constraints here are the physical constraints of the underlying material used.
The artistic conception of the artist, viewed as an analytical space, is growing with each single work, but at the same time may be modified or refined. The direction of this work is unpredictable. The artist might primarily be interested in structures themselves, in the “syntactical” aspect of the works, or he or she might be using these structures to express something and use them as a language, shifting the focus towards the semantic aspect. This depends on the artistic conception that, together with the procedural and syntactic/structural knowledge of the artist, forms the respective artistic conception. There is no rule to this. Criteria of quality emerge alongside the other parts of knowledge and are part of the developing analytical space.
From the point of view of the recipient, the art looks very different than from the artist’s own experience. Normally, the beholder of art only sees the finished product. In case he or she can watch the process of creation, this process is only seen from the outside. The knowledge of the artist and the complex feedback process by which this knowledge and the work create each other is invisible. So in any case, what we see are only fragments of the process and knowledge of the artist. We only get a partial or even fragmentary view. From this perspective, the artist’s works and the knowledge and attitudes of the beholder form analytical spaces as well but these might be quite different from those of the artist. The work as perceived by the beholder might be quite different from the work as perceived and created by the artist. The creative process of the artist, unpredictable and uncontrollable as it is, might have gone into a direction into which the perceiver might not be able to follow him, at least not without some effort, training and additional information.
The artistic conception of the artist might contain a consideration of the perceiver, the audience. The work might be created with the audience in mind and with some knowledge or understanding of who the intended audience is and how they will perceive the work. In other words, the work might be created deliberately as a means of communication or of creating a certain effect. However, some artists might not be so interested in this aspect.
A recipient or viewer is not necessarily part of this game. I don’t know if there are many artists working only alone or for themselves. I personally know one such case, an artist who never published or exhibited anything and produced her drawings, paintings, texts and objects just for her own personal fun. This might be more common than we think, I don’t know. Since such people remain mostly invisible, we don’t know how many there are and if they are rare exceptions. I guess that it is more common that artists will want to show their work.
When I look at art, one of the things interesting me is to try to find out about the artistic conception of the artist. It has become common for artists who have web sites or blogs to write an artist’s statement and to comment of their works in blog articles. Such communications often give clues about the thoughts that where behind the works or accompanied them. However, some of the artist’s conceptions, some of the knowledge in those analytical spaces might not be explicit.
I would like to receive comments of artists on what they think about their own art. What are the concepts and ideas behind it? How much of these concepts or ideas are explicit or can be consciously verbalized and how accurate are such conceptualizations. Do they actually describe what is there or are they constructions that maybe do not really describe what is going on? How much of the knowledge is intuitive, procedural or perceptive? Are there emotional components or do emotions not play such a big role in the creative processes? If they do, what kinds of feelings are there? How long did it take to develop the artistic conceptions used by artists? Are several conceptions used by the same artist? Do these stabilize in some way or are they constantly developing? Are they sometimes changed completely? What is the role of semantic components? In what way are the recipients taken into account during the creative process? What is the role of outside constraints (from economic pressures, the art market, buyers, critics, politics and society etc.? Are these factors perceived as outside constraints at all or are they integrated into the artistic conception? Are these even the right questions (I am not an artist myself, so my ideas are a bit hypothetical here)?
I know some of you are artists. Maybe some of you might be interested in answering or in suggesting different questions. I expect answers to be highly individual. I am pretty curious :-).