One of the catalysts of the Charleston Renaissance, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was a native and lifelong resident of that city. Though largely self-taught as an artist, she did take some classes in drawing and painting at the Carolina Art Association (now part of the Gibbes Museum of Art). The noted Tonalist landscape painter Birge Harrison was on an extended visit to Charleston in 1908 when Smith made his acquaintance. This association had a profound influence, and she credited Harrison as a mentor in her lyrical approach to landscape subjects. Smith likewise found inspiration in the Japonisme aesthetic of another Charleston visitor, Helen Hyde. Smith immersed herself in studying and creating Japanese style prints from 1917–1919, producing a body of work characterized by refined design and a sense of serenity.

Smith is best remembered for her scenic views of Charleston streets and poetic marsh vistas in which she captures the mystical aura of the Carolina Lowcountry. In her memoir, Smith explained that “my own lovely flat country of rice fields, of pinewoods, of cypress swamps, of oaks, lotus, and all their attendant feathered folk would yield me a full harvest if diligently spaded.” From 1924 on, she painted almost exclusively in watercolor, finding that medium most conducive to achieving the atmospheric effects she sought in her landscapes. These evocative scenes are generally devoid of human presence or activity, serving instead as odes to the natural beauty around her. Works that do include figures—often African Americans as they tend rice fields, sell flowers, or gather for church services—are seen from a remove. Likewise, more intimate portrayals appear hazy and undetailed, and not like attempts to delineate a specific likeness. Nostalgia imbues all these works, reflecting Smith’s desire to convey through memory and imagination an idealized record of the past. Smith was also a noted illustrator, contributing visuals to two volumes her father, the historian D. E. H. Smith, authored on Charleston history and architecture, as well as other books relating to South Carolina, most notably A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties (1936).

Along with her friends Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, Alfred Hutty, and Anna Heyward Taylor, Smith was at the center of Charleston's artistic reawakening during the early twentieth century. An active contributor to the city’s cultural development, she was a founding member of the Charleston Etchers Club and the Southern States Art League. She was also involved in the Historic Charleston Foundation, Carolina Art Association, and the Music and Poetry Society.

Smith exhibited widely through the South, but also in the Midwest and the Northeast, gaining a national reputation. Her work can be found in many prominent institutional collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the de Young Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, among others.