In the Mind of a Visual Artist- Behind the Scenes of Painting a Canvas with the Colours of Creativity

When spectators view the Mona Lisa, they automatically think about her smile or lack thereof but what’s even more fascinating is the mind of its maker. Which gears turn in the cognitive spheres of great painters like da Vinci and Monet? How do artists amalgamate visual aesthetic ideas and concepts? The answers lie in artistic creativity.

Clearly artistic creativity is a complex process and many often wonder how a work of art is shaped in the mind and then transformed into a material piece. Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci came close to the answer when he once said, “The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.”  Psychological research supports the basis of this statement, showing that artists can functionally separate two modes called the ‘seeing as’ mode pertaining to stimulus input and the ‘seeing that’ mode which takes motor input into consideration, allowing artists to recreate their new perceptions into concrete work.

Furthermore, artists can alternate between physical-sensory and object information as well as between three-dimensional and two dimensional view. These alternating abilities contribute to the artist’s view of the world from a new vantage point. Flexibility also plays a crucial role in this process and according to Gerald C. Cupchik, various forms of flexibility are characteristic of visual artists. For instance, they have the ability to access primitive feelings and memories that reside in the unconscious which are otherwise inaccessible. It’s for this reason that psychoanalysts consider an art piece as a window into the artist’s unconscious, serving as a socially acceptable way to express unconscious drives and fantasies.

Another factor playing a role in artistic creativity is that of intelligence which was recognized by Pablo Picasso himself when he said, “There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun.” According to Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory, painters and architects have high visual-spatial intelligence, enabling them to accurately visualize the world and recreate the aspects of their visual experiences. Studies reveal that visual intelligence unconsciously constructs what one sees leading to the discovery that vision is an active construction as opposed to a form of passive perception.

So in the complex and simultaneously perplexing mental journey that is artistic creativity it is these cognitive factors fuelled by divergent and analogical thought that have the power to convert an empty, blank canvas into a masterpiece. Since so much about the process is yet to be discovered, there is much left to the imagination of the artist and spectator alike, making art all the more interesting.


  1. Hoffman, D. (1998). Visual Intelligence. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  2. Cupchik, G. (1983). The Scientific Study of Artistic Creativity.Leonardo, 193-195.
  3. Feldman, R. (1993). Intelligence. Understanding psychology (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.



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