2.5 Process artists

The purpose of this research task was look at the work of a number of artists that use systems and processes to make their work, and to reflect on this so that any lessons can be incorporated into my own practice.

Key words from the brief:

  • Many fine artists have developed systems and processes to create their work
  • Research some of these artists’ work and working processes and reflect on these in your learning log


aleatory music otherwise known as chance music, where some element of the composition is left to chance.

Anti-form a term associated with a group of artists working in the United States in the late 1960s who embraced chance and other organic processes.

Arte Povera An Italian art movement that started in the 1960s and combined elements of conceptual, minimalist, and performance art.

Fibonacci sequence a sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the two preceding ones, starting from 0 and 1.

Land art a type of art that is made directly in the landscape, sculpting the land itself into earthworks or making structures in the landscape using natural materials.

methodological describes a way of creating art from specified or known methods.

Minimalism an art movement started in the 1950s characterised by extreme sparseness and simplicity.

Process art where the process of making art is not hidden, so that a part or even the whole of the subject is the making of the work.

syntactical how the different components of the sentence, the words, are ordered.

task-oriented dance a form of dance improvisation where the performer improvises based on a set of predefined rules.

Process artist research

I selected three process artists to research:

  • Robert Morris
  • John Cage
  • Mario Merz

Robert Morris (1931 – 2018)

Robert Morris was a key figure in the Minimalist movement. He was a sculptor and dance choreographer and wrote a number of seminal essays that helped to define Minimalism.

This quote from Morris’s influential essay Notes on dance describe some of the rules (the process) employed in his choreography. The dances: “explored the possibilities inherent in a situation of “rules” or game-like structures which required the performer to respond to cues which might, for example, indicate changes in height or spatial position. A fair degree of complexity of these rules and cues effectively blocked the dancer’s performing “set” and reduced him to frantically attempting to respond to cues-reduced him from performance to action” (Morris, 1965).

Robert Morris - Waterman Switch
Fig 1 – Waterman Switch (1965)

One of his best known sculptures is Untitled (L-beams) (1965). The work consists of three identical beams, each placed in a different orientation.

Morris was equally interested in sculptural form and the way the shapes were perceived; the act of seeing/experiencing. The forms are stripped down to the very base essence. Viewers are left to question/experience the relationship between the three beams thier relationship to the gallery space.

John Cage (1912 – 1992)

John Cage was an American composer described by some critics as one of the most influential composers of the 20th Century.

In A summary of John Cage on The Art Story website, he is described as: “best known for revolutionizing modern music through his incorporation of unconventional instrumentation and the idea of environmental music dictated by chance” (The Art Story).

His work was heavily influenced by his studies of Indian philosophy and Zen Buddhism. In 1951 he started to compose chance-controlled music where he began to use the I Ching (the ancient Chinese text) to make chance decisions, and this became his standard composition tool for the rest of his life, although this was replaced later with a computer generated algorithm that behaved in a similar fashion.

Although each piece of music has a basic structure, the overall effect varies with each performance as different variables, like the location and audience, directly affect the sounds that are produced.

His most famous (and most controversial) work was 4’33” (1952), where the composition doesn’t contain a single note, but rather a series of instructions that the performer has to follow whilst sitting in total silence for the duration of the piece, 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

This video of John Cage performing “Water Walk” in January, 1960 on the popular TV show I’ve Got A Secret is a fascinating insight into the music, the performance of the music and how it was perceived at the time. 

Throughout his life he had a connection with modern dance through dancer and lifelong romantic partner Merce Cunningham (who also incorporated chance in his choreography).

Mario Merz (1925 – 2003)

Merz was born in Milan, Italy and started drawing during the Second World War.

The majority of his work is comprised of three motifs – the igloo, the Fibonacci sequence and his use of neon.

He became involved in the Arte Povera movement during the 1960s which was a reaction to the values of established institutions of government, industry, and culture.

The concepts of this movement are outlined on the Wikipedia entry for Arte Povera:


  • A return to simple objects and messages
  • The body and behavior are art
  • The everyday becomes meaningful
  • Traces of nature and industry appear
  • Dynamism and energy are embodied in the work
  • Nature can be documented in its physical and chemical transformation
  • Explore the notion of space and language
  • Complex and symbolic signs lose meaning
  • Ground Zero, no culture, no art system, Art = Life

(Arte Povera, 2020)

His involvement in this movement with it’s emphasis on the everyday and a return to simple objects led him to start working with neon.

From 1969 he began creating works that incorporated the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.


A example of how he used this as a rule to drive his creative process is a work called Untitled (A Real Sum is a Sum of People) (1972). The work consists of a sequence of ten photographs arranged horizontally underneath a row of neon numbers. The photographs were taken in a restaurant in Milan and are of artists and art dealers dining at tables. The neon number above each picture corresponds to the number of diners in each image, with the numbers increasing from left to right according to the rules of the Fibonacci sequence. In other words, the structure and content of the work is defined by a mathematical rule.

This artwork is one of a series that all used the same format and rules, with photographs taken at different locations: a factory cafeteria in Naples, the King George VI pub in Kentish Town, London and a Restaurant in Turin.

Untitled (A Real Sum is a Sum of People) 1972 by Mario Merz 1925-2003
Fig 2 – Untitled (A Real Sum is a Sum of People) (1972)

Another form that he started using in 1968 and used throughout the rest of his career is the igloo sculpture, that combine rough igloo structures with neon signage. He created many different versions of this structure with increasing complexity, incorporating a range of diverse materials.

Igloo, Do We Go Around Houses, or Do Houses Go Around Us? 1977, reconstructed 1985 by Mario Merz 1925-2003
Fig 3 – Igloo, Do We Go Around Houses, or Do Houses Go Around Us? (1977)


These artists and composers used minimalist process to a greater or lesser degree to either help them make creative decisions or provide a structure upon which to work. The emphasis was using a process as a means to an end; the Minimalist philosophy is that the process is an end in itself.

As an illustrator whose task is to respond to a particular problem with a visual response, this extreme use of process isn’t helpful. What I’m most interested in is ultimately retaining control of an image to mee the needs of a brief. However, what I find interesting about this subject is how a process can be used as an impersonal starting point from which it’s possible to jump off into a more personalised visual response.

The question for me is ‘how rigidly do you need to stick to a process?’ If the process is used as a means to an end and not and end it itself, it becomes a useful/interesting tool.

To experiment with this I made two drawings.

The process:

  • Working rapidly, draw the main subject(s) without looking at the paper – like blind contour drawing, (loss of control).
  • Add some level of fill/tone looking at the image but deliberately not correcting any imperfections or observational inaccuracies, (gaining some control).
Figure 4 – An experiment using a simple observational process in response to a three 3-minute life drawing poses (2020)

I used the same process to create this observational drawing of a vase of flowers, this time using charcoal and Conte Crayon.

Process drawiing02
Fig 5 – A different subject drawn with different media but the same process (2020)

I really like the energy and dynamism the process brings to the drawing.


John Cage – Water Walk (s.d.) At: https://youtu.be/SSulycqZH-U (Accessed 11/06/2020).

Morris, R. (1965) ‘Notes on Dance’ In: The Tulane Drama Review 10 (2) pp.179–186.

Singular Visions: Robert Morris, Untitled (L-Beams), 1965 (s.d.) At: https://youtu.be/m6Y6LkZblTk (Accessed 11/06/2020).

Wikipedia contributors (2020) Arte Povera. At: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arte_Povera&oldid=961500173 (Accessed 11/06/2020).

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Morris, Robert (1965) Waterman Switch At: https://grupaok.tumblr.com/post/180658611584/robert-morris-waterman-switch-with-lucinda (Accessed: 11/06/20)

Figure 2 – Merz, Mario (1972) Untitled (The Real Sum is a Sum of People) At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/merz-untitled-a-real-sum-is-a-sum-of-people-t12192 (Accessed: 11/06/20)

Figure 3 – Merz, Mario, (1977) Igloo, Do We Go Around Houses, or Do Houses Go Around Us? (1977) At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/merz-igloo-do-we-go-around-houses-or-do-houses-go-around-us-t05755 (Accessed: 11/06/20)

Figure 4 – Hadfield, Hugh (2020) An experiment using a simple observational process in response to a three 3-minute life drawing poses (2020) [Watercolour pencils on paper, A2 sized] In possession of: the author

Figure 4 – Hadfield, Hugh (2020) A different subject drawn with different media but the same process (2020) [Charcoal and Conte Crayon on paper, A1 sized] In possession of: the author