I have a fear that my art is without style. I’m not speaking about art in a fashion sense, either. I don’t mean that my style is questionable or bad, I mean that my work exhibits an absence of style. I get the impression that many of this awesome community struggle with this, too.
Ever since I was little I felt like I was doing something wrong when I made art. It seemed like everyone else knew a secret that guided them in their artistic discovery. I’d watch my friends create beautiful artworks and immediately see their unique mark-making and style. I’d look at my art and see a void; where was my style?
When I decided to become an art teacher I realized I had to guide my students in this same journey. I wasn’t the only person to feel this way. Many of us feel vulnerable about creation, even if we’ve been making for years, students of all ages express concern over discovering and developing artistic style.
Today let’s discuss 3 important elements to discover and develop artistic style.
Keep It Simple
I remember taking AP Art and being told by my art teacher to find a theme or thread for my artwork. He suggested that if I did, I would likely earn a higher grade. I spent so much time thinking about a “good theme” that I did not create much art. I didn’t do well on the exam. One of those reasons for not scoring as well as I could have is I complicated things.
Work that is created by the same person will exhibit connections to previous artworks. Because we have unique interests and ideas, those will express themselves in our art. Today, as an art educator and examiner for the IB, I can tell you too many students over-complicate their ideas. (Phew, it’s not just me!) They spend too much time in their heads on ideation and too little on execution, which leads me to our next point:
Make Art, Make Lots and Lots of Art
The research I’ve found online all tells me to do one thing: create art. This is one reason I love reading about Crystal Moody’s work. She openly discusses creative process and her habit of creating art every day. We can watch as she discovers and learns about her own artistic style. It’s also how we can also discover our own.
Creating a series of art, like Moody has with her Fursday paintings, is a great way to engage with her audience and collectors. By doing so, Moody (and the rest of us) can learn about color, qualities of mark making and ultimately which topics keep our interest. But we can’t learn about these things unless we put paintbrush to canvas! It’s by creating our artwork that we discover our own interests, which lead us to artistic style and voice.
You Aren’t Stuck with One Style for Life
I had an animated conversation with one of our lovely community members who felt frustrated that she would be beholden to one artistic style, forever, in order to make money and be shown in galleries. I tried to explain that this just isn’t true! Look at work by Picasso and you will see his work evolved over time.
Other artists with evolving styles include: van Gogh, Degas and contemporary Chuck Close. These artists have specific styles that come to mind when we think of them. But, if you dig a little deeper into their history, you’d see they investigate different approaches to their art over time. They didn’t feel beholden to one style; they investigated new and different ideas over time.
We aren’t beholden to one style. But, we certainly won’t learn about our art and style unless we investigate an idea beyond a single artwork. By the virtue of doing our own work, and going through our own visual investigation and discovery, we will create works that reflect an overarching style and quality. It’s how we grow in skill and how we grow as artists (and human beings!).
I’m a pragmatic person. I enjoy efficiency, systems, and recipes. Give me directions and a system for doing something and I’m all over it. Tell me something is without a system and I create one for it. There is a system for developing artistic style: it involves commitment to one’s art, many stops and starts along the way, and continued skill development. The system has bumps built into the road because that’s the only path to artistic style. We grow, we learn, we incorporate new ideas into our art, and we begin again.
My work has evolved over the years but you can observe my artwork and see my paintings and drawings share certain qualities. I’d investigate color for a certain time, or layering paint with plaster, and then once I felt I figured it out, I moved on to something new. Today my recent work has been all about being color and capturing moments of travel.
When you place certain artworks of these different time periods together they look drastically different. And yet, if you look closely, you can see shared qualities: certain marks I make with my brush, the sculptural weight I often give to objects in my works, for example. My ideas progress as I do. My artwork grows as I grow and learn. That knowledge helps my fear abate and opens the door for me to create.
There is a big secret to developing and understanding artistic style. It includes the above qualities, but there is one more special ingredient: it’s you. We are unique individuals with our own combination of personality traits, interests and ideas. It is only by creating that you discover your style because only YOU can create your art.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Describe your journey to an artistic style in the comments below. Do you have a distinct style? How did you find it? Or are you still looking? I want to know! Tell me about it in the comments below.
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