11 February 2012

The Steps of Art

Art, though a difficult word to define, is found is almost everything we as humans do. In chapter seven of his book Understanding Comics, the Invisible Art, McCloud gives a very broad definition to the word art. He believes that art is any activity that doesn't come from the two most basic human instincts: reproduction and survival. He gives an example of a group of very bored cavemen sitting in a circle. But while sitting in this circle every single one of them are expressing some form of art. One draws in the sand, another is running around and kicking up rocks, another is making rhythms by banging rocks together, and another discovers fire by rubbing rocks together. All of these are art, and McCloud is proving by this example that it can be found everywhere. McCloud proposes a path of six different steps in which every work of art follows. The path starts with an idea or purpose. Second is the form that the artwork takes, for example a book, a sculpture, a painting, etc. Third is the idiom; the style or genre of the piece. Fourth, the way the artist composes his work is called the structure. The fifth step is craft; how the author gets the job done or how he uses his skills and knowledge to complete his task. The last step is the surface. This is the step that everyone can see, the finished product.
Although McCloud says every piece of art follows this same path, that doesn't mean that every artist realizes the path that they are following. Many artists are so focused on the finished product or the surface that they neglect the other steps. All six steps are still present no matter what, however they may be underdeveloped which would create a lack of depth in the artwork. The more the artist focuses on the beginning steps, idea/purpose and form, the better developed and more meaningful the piece of art becomes. Comics are no different than any other form of art. Comic artists follow this same path to create their masterpieces. It is through these six steps that comic artists, or any artist, can put their ideas together and transport them far and wide throughout the earth.

I really enjoyed this chapter. I have never payed any attention to the depth of art. I am one of those uneducated people who hardly ever looks past the surface when looking at a piece of art. This helped me realize that there is a lot more to comics and any art than just the pictures and words on the page. You can take any piece of art and pick out these six steps. For example look at this painting of Christ.

In this painting, you can pick out that the idea/purpose the artist has is to show Christ's agony on
the cross and to portray him still looking to God through all of his agony. The form is a painting. The idiom is a religious genre. The structure is how the artist put together and arranges all the details to show his purpose. The craft is the skills the artist has in order to get this painting done. And the structure is the finished product. With every work of art, these same steps can be applied, however not every person will receive the artwork the same way. For example the idea or purpose of this painting may not be what I said it was, the artist may have had a different idea in mind. But this is the glory of art, everyone can perceive the same artwork differently. This concept ties back into closure, that everyone can see the same thing a little bit differently.


  1. Nice breakdown of artistic motives behind your Christ example

  2. I like how your comment states your opinion, that you are uneducated when it comes to art- I too only look at the surface. I think as long as you are able to form an opinion on what you think the artists is trying to say that you are still doing a good job. Art is created for a purpose and McCloud states its up to the readers to get an understanding out of it, even if it comes years later, along with the recognition. At least now when we look at any form of art, which varies incredibly, we can notice whether or not all six steps were hit. You didn't mention how one and two of the six steps were considerably harder than the other steps(according to the book), although I think your blog was great and the picture puts it over the edge.

  3. Great post, Marci! You're explanation of how your example art piece follows the 6 steps is a little simple, but it still works :-)