Monday, February 04, 2008

Maggie on Style, Part 1

Let's talk about style, shall we? I've been asked to talk about it a lot over the last few months, and I keep putting it off. I don't know why. Maybe because it's intangible. Maybe because when you talk about style, you start hearing whispers of other words that I don't quite believe in: "natural talent" and "inherent skill" and "inborn artistic vision." A lot of artists don't seem to pursue a distinct style -- they wait for it to emerge, like some sort of heavenly gift. But the truth is that style is only partially born, and mostly made. That old Einstein quote about 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? Yeah. We're talking about that.

So I should define what I mean by style first. Style is . . . what makes your art yours. In music, we call it "sound." In writing, we call it "voice." In marketing, we call it "branding." In art, it's a subtle combination of palette, exaggeration, subject matter, values, and composition that makes it possible to look at a Monet and say "that's a Monet."

Let's try an exercise. Throughout this post, I've posted pieces of art with flowers in them from six distinctive artists: Monet, Van Gogh, Louis Comfort Tiffany, John Bauer (from our study, remember?), J. W. Waterhouse, and John Singer Sargent. You may not be extremely well-acquainted with the works of these artists, but I'll bet you can tell which is which after one second of examination. That's style at it's best. That's what you want as an artist. You want to be picked out of a line up. To be known for something.

So here's the exercise (and no, it's not going to be painful like real exercise. In fact, if you start cramping up during this exercise, I highly recommend seeing a doctor, or at the very least, an art historian.): look at those examples and compile a list of what makes each distinct. They all have at least one flower in them. Flowers are all the same subject -- but these pieces don't look anything like each other. You can be as unscientific about this exercise as you like. You don't even have to write down the stylistic differences, but do at least say them out loud or otherwise organize them in your head.

Now pull out three of your finished works. If you don't have many lying around, pull out digital images. Put them all up on the screen together. What unifies them? Don't be worried if you don't see anything that smacks you in the face immediately. If your style is in its infancy, you might find that your pieces look wildly different or are even rather similar to an artist that you admire. You're looking for the seeds of a style. Any unifying trait. Make another list. This is what makes you you.

Tomorrow, I'll show you how I developed my current style by doing just that. With fun pictures! Ah! Oooh! If anyone has any questions or comments on how developing a style, on the artists here, or how they developed their style, leave 'em in the comments!


Barbie Bud said...

Thank you Maggie for doing this, I look forward to tomorrows blog. This is interesting stuff especially to beginners such as myself, trying to figure out my style and what I should be painting. You're so wonderful to share your knowledge. Barb

Lynette said...

Great post!! I think that a person's individual style surely emerges more and more with each piece of art produced.

Jo Castillo said...

Thank you, Maggie. I always get my smile for the end of the day here on your blog ..... and you always make me think. I'm dragging out the paintings in the morning. Too late tonight.

Katherine said...

One of the things I found most useful in identifying my style was sorting out all my work to post it on a website.

It was amazing to see subject matter on a screen which looked really unified and other subjects where the impression was a bit more disjointed.

Now - I wonder whether you will tackle writing about moving on with your style once you've found it? Finding your style is one thing - developing and refining it is quite another!

Rhonda Bartoe Tucker said...

You never stop pushing me along, do you? Thank you, thank you. Where to begin to hone and define my style has been niggling and bothering me about my work for some time; your post has helped me to begin to organize my thoughts on this. Looking forward to more!

Tales of an Artist & his Travelers said...

Style is your individual interpretation of the world around you. If you have to sit and figure it out, you don`t have it yet. Free your spirit and let it guide your vision.

Tracy said...

Ooooooh, my achilles. While trying to become more aware of my "style", I noticed similarities and concepts when I hung a show recently. Others can point it out, but I have more trouble. I think you need a distance(figurative and literal) between you and your work to be able to see the forest amongst the trees. I agree Katherine, on the computer can have the same effect.