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Friday, December 9, 2011

The Question of Style

A question asked most often by emerging artists is "How do I find my style?"

Style--that unique characteristic that links an artist to his or her work.  Where does this characteristic come from? How is it that anybody familiar with Charles Reid or Jennifer McChristian or Carla O'Connor can recognize one of their paintings without seeing a signature?

Look at these three paintings, one by each of these three artists:

Charles Reid     Watercolor
Jennifer McChristian   Oil

Carla O'Conner   Water media
Each is the same subject matter, the female figure.  The art critic would describe in detail how each style is different from the other two and unique to the artist who did the painting, but I don't want to do that.  You can see their differences for yourself, and if you go to their websites, you can see how each of their styles is uniquely expressed in these paintings.  No, what I want to address is how artists acquire their styles.

The single thing Reid, McChristian and O'Connor have in common is that each of them knows how to paint:  they know their craft. They have learned and matured their skills.  They can paint without thinking about how to do it.  So, before a style can fully emerge, an artist has to be so comfortable with drawing and painting that no conscious thought has to be given to the how-to of it.

Developing skills to this extent requires practice, lots of practice.  And here is where artists lose the advantage enjoyed by musicians, actors, poets, and all other performers. That advantage is that the practice sessions are distinct from the performance.  Evidence of the struggle gets left behind the scene.

Not so for painters:  we have our practice pieces starring us in the face.  And there's always somebody wanting to see what we've done, leaving us vulnerable to their comments.  Nobody has to hear a musician's practice nor hear an actor's rehearsing nor watch an ice skater's workout, but once an artist has done a practice painting, it's there to be seen as if it's the final statement.

Because of this one thing, too many emerging artists think every piece must be a masterpiece.  They are not given the leisure of practice pieces.  In fact,  too often their teachers neglect to remind them that class work is practice, not performance.

The irony of all this is that true style emerges and evolves during the act of doing.  It cannot be contrived nor intentionally invented without being faked.  In fact, if style is forced or invented intentionally or cloned from another artist, it cannot last because it has no where to go.  I admit a slim possibility that an artist can evolve out of an induced style into his and her own uniqueness, but there's a danger of getting stuck only to reach a dead end.

It is safer and less stressful to just allow syle to happen within the act of doing.  While skills are being developed, the artist's uniqueness can emerge if it is allowed to.  In fact, developing your own style is the easiest part of becoming an artist.  You don't have to try to do anything at all beyond adjusting your attitude about it.  Allow yourself the leisure of practice. Lots and lots of practice.  Learn your craft and the style will follow.

Style is nothing more than the artist's natural response within and to the entire process of painting.
Note:  The idea for this tutorial came while listening to Robert Genn being interviewed by Leslie Saeta and Dreama Tolle Perry on their blogcast, Artists Helping Artists.  You can listen to Robert's interview by going HERE.

If you have something you'd like me to address in these weekly tutorials, send me an email at dianne.mize@gmail.com and I'll be happy to give it my best shot.


cerazette said...

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