An Artist's Statement - by Marvin Bartel

Creative union and materialization of diverse concepts

Creative Elaboration
in studio art is best served by lots of preliminary preparation during the perceptive stage. The perceptive stage of creativity identifies and focus the issues, but the elaboration stage can give it quality. In the early stages of finding an idea, I often make unrelated observations and attempt to connect them. I experiment to look for unexpected outcomes. I listen and observe. Bringing unrelated ideas together is a sure way to challenge our prior assumptions. It brings out my instinctive needs and practiced skills in creating a new order and resolution. Here the user of the sink and the sink's function have been brought together to produce a new order.

I wondered if I could create an evocative pedestal sink by placing the sink above the clay counter instead of dropping it down into the counter.  During my ‘preparation’ stage I made sketches of various ways to make the exposed sink bowl imply imagery in addition to its functional attributes as a hand washing basin. 

As my ideas progressed in the form of drawings, I found that I could keep the sink as a fairly conventional bowl, but give evocative meaning to the bowl by virtue of the surrounding items including the pedestal and the mirror that accompany the bowl. By giving human forms to the other parts, a common bowl form takes on new meaning as a belly vessel. 

Many changes were made during the actual making of the piece. As it turned out, these elaboration stage changes during the clay work were critical and essential part of the piece’s outcome as an expressive art form.


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I make lots of sketches that combine previously unconnected things. Discoveries are assessed on the basis of originality, how evocative they are, whether it seems technically attainable, and so on. However, it important not reject anything too soon. During the preparation stage it is common to give up, but remain expectant. The artist is confident that to success will emerge eventually. These preliminary activities serve to both expand the realm of ideas while simultaneously eliminating some of the most untenable ideas. All this is done with the expectation that insight and illumination is on the way.

Insight emerges from the subconscious because of the previous preparation. Brain studies by Randy Buchner* (2010) are now showing the locations in our brains where we have an instinct to automatically process future scenarios while we sleep and while we are not concentrating on anything in particular. Without preparation, an artist's brain would be less successful in combining new needs with prior experiences in order to assess possible scenarios. Preparation makes us more creative. Creativity favors the prepared mind that can find innovative solutions. Creativity favors the prepared mind because the prepared mind is more apt to recognize the most innovative and evocative artistic ideas.

Insight may come at a much later date when it is least expected. The problem suddenly has a tentative solution. It is not yet art. It is moving to the next level. Many problem solutions benefit from repeated rounds of scenario making during the making of the work.  When a creative idea comes to mind, it effects many other parts of the project. Everything is connected. When one part is done differently, all the other parts need to account for this. It takes a lot of imagination and more experimentation to see what will happen.  I ask myself, “Now that I have a feasible theory or idea, what else would happen if I did it this way, or this way, or this way, etc.

In art, elaboration has style-specific attributes. Elaboration for the minimalist, consists of finding a less complex, yet stronger way to express something. When working as a surrealist, I am free to elaborate from the more bizarre corners of my subconscious. If I am working as an expressionist, it becomes imperative to abandon control and intensify action. If I have an instrumentalist's concern to point out a social or environmental problem, I have to worry about the communicative and evocative power of my work.

Elaborate WHAT?
What are my skills and experience that I can use to make it different than if others did it? What will make it distinctive? Why will people notice it? What makes it evocative?

Not all elaboration is done prior to the main production.  Expect creative changes. Sometimes it seems that there is no sequence, but everything emerges at once.  Much of the elaboration takes place during the process of making something.  It is common to add decoration or make modifications to something at the very end.  It is important to allow flexible sequencing.

Ideas and improvements are appropriate at any point in the creative process. I find that it is best to put aside all the preliminary ideas and sketches when working on the final piece so that I am more attendant to the work itself.

*Buckner, Randy L. (2010) "The role
of the hippocampus in prediction and
imagination." Annual Review of
2010;61:27-48, C1-8.

- © marvin bartel 12-10-2002, updated 2-8-2011


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