Advice for artists: "Style" is a myth

In this post, I want to talk about the myth of “having a style” or a "certain look.”

For as long as I can remember, one of the limitations I unknowingly put on myself was that everything I would create should have a consistent style. It should be recognizable as being my work.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve spent my spare time looking into the works of many artists (more now than ever before) as well as photographers, designers and architects. One of the most inspiring elements of researching other artists is that, when you look at the body of work that they have created over their lifetime, you get a true sense of their style — consistent colors, brushstrokes, angles, framing, etc…  As a result, most people can identify a Picasso, or a Monet.

Although inspiring to see such a body of work, it placed so many limiting factors on me through my artistic development. As a result, I feel like I’ve been going round in circles, trying new styles, colors and mark making - never finding a “style” or a consistent body of work that suits me or feels natural.

This has been such a cause of frustration throughout my time as an artist. Since I began making art as a teenager I’ve done everything from cartoon characters, origami, painting, photography, screen printing, wood block printing, graphic design, 3D computer generated graphics, video work, oil painting, watercolor, pen and ink, and collage. I’ve dabbled in everything form the surreal to the mundane, mixed media to digital media.

All of this made me feel like a jack of all trades and a master of nothing. Until now.

I recently grabbed a book from the library. (Side note: If you don’t have a library card for your local library, stop reading this, go out and get one. Then spend a couple of hours in the art section… then come back to me.) The book I grabbed was a book on Picasso. It was published while he was still alive and provided an overview of his life, the key moments in his career and some insight into his life outside of art (he was quite the celebrity).

Here’s what I discovered. Picasso began painting around the age of 9, being taught by his father who was also a painter. This I already knew. Picasso developed Cubism along with Georges Braque. This I also knew. But Picasso the child did not paint in the cubist style. (Sounds obvious but it's enlightening in a way) Picasso, at age 15, was painting like one of the old masters. He was a classically trained artists creating works that could be mistaken for El Greco, Delacroix or Raphael. 

Science and Charity

 

 

 

 

Picasso - 1987

So what? Well, here’s my epiphany moment and I want to share it with you so you don’t waste years of your life limiting yourself to a “style” because “that’s what you’re known for.” Picasso, arguably the greatest artist of the 20th century, had many styles over his 70 year career and worked in many mediums including sculpture, ceramics, printing even stage design! What he's known for and the work he produced are not necessarily the same. He ventured across mediums and approaches.

Bottom Line: Don’t strangle your creativity and limit yourself to a “style” in the hopes of presenting your work with some sense of consistency. Do what you feel, work from the heart, the consistency is that it all came from you.