Finding Your Artistic Voice
How to discover your uniqueness as an artist
Is this the most copied artist in America?
I began my professional art career as a freelance commercial illustrator in the early 70's. I shared office space with an already well established artist who had excellent credentials, was confident in what he was doing, and had a very tight, realistic style.
Being new to the field and not as well trained as he, I lacked confidence and individuality of style. Over time I began projecting photo reference and adopting a more photo realistic style. Upon entering the fine art field 10 years later, and seriously evaluating my abilities, I realized I had become dependent on the projector and really had little confidence in my drawing ability. In fact, now looking back, I understood very little about creating a quality painting.
As an illustrator I was told that in order to be successful one needed to develop a unique style. That may be true in the illustration field but as a fine artist that just seems so phony and artificial because the whole motivation for creating art is different. Yet, the reality is, galleries and collectors alike generally don't like surprises. Collectors expect something similar to what we have done before. Galleries want a product they can sell, and they expect consistency in quality and subject matter.
So how does one find their niche in the marketplace and uniqueness of creative expression?
Dan Gerhartz often speaks of honesty in painting...honesty in depiction of the subject and honesty to one's self. My friend Ed Pointer says, "I never gave it much thought. I just liked to paint and painted my own way." Frustration has kept Pointer searching. "I've never being satisfied with what I'm doing, or I could say, rarely being satisfied with my technique. I seem always to be searching for something that I haven't quite found. Glenn Miller spent a tremendous amount of time in searching for his particular musical sound, most of his musical life in fact--he did finally find it but the quest occupied much of his conscious life."
I included Pointer in this group of great artists because he, along with them, has a very distinctive way of expressing himself. He doesn't realize it but it's obvious to everyone else.
Pointer highlights one of the important points of finding your artistic voice...experimentation...trying a lot of different things...to me that includes everything from design to media.
Here are some other valuable points:
* Don't make uniqueness the object of your affection.
* First, learn to "speak". Develop your painting vocabulary: composition, drawing, values, edges, color, etc., etc. What good is uniqueness if when you have something to say you have not the skill nor ability to communicate it convincingly?
* Be a serious student. Take your work seriously. A hobby artist attitude will not get the job done. Continually increase your understanding and apply what you've learned.
* Improve your taste through the study of the great masters.
* Paint what you understand, love, and are passionate about. Do not get into the rut of painting a certain subject because it sells.
* Learn and apply the valuable stuff you have learned from others, but don't mimic. Remember, it's all about you gaining knowledge and understanding of how to create a great painting. It's about seeing through your eyes, not the eyes of another. The artists represented here interpret through their eyes, intellect and emotions and their individuality is crystal clear. Everyone after them can only copy their "voice", and that to me is artificial.
* Give yourself time. No one matures overnight.
* Subject matter alone cannot be the distinguishing feature of finding one's "voice". Almost all of the artists shown here paint a variety of subjects and yet their work is still easily recognized. Why? I believe it goes to the emotional content, design, drawing, color choices, and paint application. All are very personal, and when developed, can lead to a very personal style.
Other opinions on this subject voiced by others, which I don't necessarily agree with are:
* Don't judge your choices.
* Decide what type of artist you wish to be and develop your style accordingly.
* Detach yourself from your visual library...all of the art you have seen and experienced in the past.
Finally, painting is like learning to write. After learning the alphabet, being introduced to writing tools and how to use and hold them, one learns how to form each letter...and eventually how to write one's name in cursive. Over time, having written one's name hundreds, thousands of times, your signature is uniquely yours. There's not one other like it in the world. How did it all begin...taking that pencil in hand and awkwardly forming those first letters.
If you have further insight into this subject or would like to share with others how you discovered your artistic voice, please feel free to contribute.
Here are links to the websites of each of the artists featured in this article:
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