Accidental Art Explained: What is it?   

To answer this question, we need to define the terms “accidental” and “art.”

Let’s take a look at the word “accidental”. This is a word that is usually associated with negative connotations. However, sometimes, the best things in life occur can accidentally or randomly without forward planning, like a chance meeting that kickstarts a whole other series of events or some of the greatest scientific inventions like penicillin- (who would have thought that a mouldy sandwich could lead to a life-saving cure for bacterial infections?!)

What is art? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as the saying goes and the same is true for art- what one person may interpret as being a masterpiece may leave another feeling cold or at best lukewarm.

The greatest masterpieces are innovative and connect with you personally. From line, shape, colour and form to shape, texture and value, a skilled artist takes these elements and combines them with great design principles to produce thought-provoking pieces that allow the artist to express their inner-thinking and connect with their audience.

Hours of time, thought, emotion, personality and talent are dedicated to the cause of creating a finished product that has impact.

And yet- sometimes, the best pieces of art are simply just thrown together- like random elements that collide, forming order, structure and beauty out of chaos.

Frustratingly, an artist may spend hours painstakingly putting together a masterpiece, only for a drop of water to spill. What initially may seem like a disaster is just a new image that happily may be better than the original.

Examples of accidental art

Take a look at these examples:

  • A stirred paint pot, with symmetrical swirling shades of blue may produce a picture that looks like waves crashing on a beach, evoking happy memories of a relaxing time by the sea.
  • Just like a cloud may look like a rabbit or a dog, a drop of paint may take on a whole new persona as an animal, transforming the original picture into a new landscape or story.
  • Inks running on a page can transform it into a different image- if you’ve ever painted a picture on one side of a page and then folded it in half to make a butterfly, then you’ll get the idea.
  • Washing the paint out of the pots in the sink can produce the most beautiful vibrant, psychedelic patterns.
  • A dog lying in coloured chalk is transformed into a rainbow, blending into a moving picture.
  • Whipped up coffee froth in the shape of a leaf or the forest like image left behind by the stains in the bottom of the cup changes your cuppa into a work or art.
  • Exploding paint tins can look like an erupting volcano.
  • Mixing different media or shades can produce random flower-like shapes where the two types of paint meet.
  • Taking the term “accidental art” in its literal sense, the image of a paint lorry which has crashed creating a beautiful spectrum of colours on the road has to be one of the best examples of this type of work.
Paint peeling off wood
Blue paint peeling off wood

Digital accidental art

Long gone are the days where you would have to wait weeks for photos to be printed from a reel only to find that most of them were not fit to go anywhere near a photo album! But some were funny and even artistic in their own right anyway- like the family group shot of everyone’s feet!

These days, it’s much harder to take a bad photo but moving images and nighttime scenes can produce wonderful colourful streaks of light transporting the photo into an entirely different image.

A shaky hand taking a snapshot of the New York skyline at night can be turned into a blend of colourful lines or images of the Northern lights transformed by a different colour filter.

A slow loading picture on a computer can look like an oil painting.

With the use of advanced technology, previously undiscovered images such as microscopic algae and pollen can now be captured creating stunning digital art.

Images of Space – billions of stars and planets in all their glory can be captured in all their glory. Changes in light frequencies at the interface between air and water along with the continual motion of the waves results in a unique blend of images that are truly a one-off.

Nature inspired accidental art

A black and white photo of tree roots
A black and white photo of tree roots

The theory of using nature and the environment for inspiration is a well-known phenomenon. Gnarled tree trunks, misshaped stones and varying shades of dirt can take on the image of a landscape or humorous faces, inspiring the mind with new designs and ideas.

According to the Tate Gallery, Leonardo Da Vinci used to advise his students to study the walls if they were experiencing a creative block rather than staring at a blank canvas. Artists during the Renaissance frequently personified the surroundings in their work resulting in works such as human faces in Bellini’s rock paintings and the zephyr’s in Mantega’s clouds.

Nature itself can be the best artist- A visit to the seaside will show you the wonderful sculptural masterpieces of stacks of rocks, arches and bridges that take on a whole new image as weathering and erosion remove layers of minerals, leaving stunning works of art.

The cliffs themselves are an organic work of art that is continually evolving to reveal the beauty of its bands of natural colours.

From sandstone reds to white limestone hiding their fossils within to hard layers of granite and quartz- all have their own story and unique composition of colourful minerals which are gradually revealed by the elements over time. Sand dunes and the beach itself, ever-changing with the tides that ebb and flow can be accidentally sculpted to form amazing art.

So, when you get a minute- pause, look around you and see what accidental art you can see. Whether you consider yourself an artist or not, if you look hard enough, accidental art is all around you.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

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