Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Reflections on Style

"Grand Flowers", 24x18", oil on canvas

Style can be a seemingly illusive element in our work that students seek and seasoned painters seem to own.   Where and how does one "find" style and what is it? The answer to that, like so many things in art, is both simple and complex.

To begin with, style can not be taught, it is inherent in each of us. We can develop it through painting miles of canvas and we can recognize it within us through self knowledge and understanding.  It is, after all is said and done, who we are and how we do it.  The more we understand and focus on what comes naturally to us as a unique individual, the closer we arrive at style. Style is after all, no more than our "signature". An example of this is the way each of us writes. We can force a style of writing that is unnatural  but when we are relaxed we revert and write in a way that is unique only to ourselves. Style in painting is the same, unique and self inscribed. Style is all about what we say as an artist in our work.
Don't be confused between the issue of developing one's own personal style and learning the principles of one's craft through instruction.  They are two entirely different things. Unfortunately, some students feel that taking art classes will influence their style. This is true only if the instructor they choose is one that insists students paint like them....and, frankly I can name several nationally known artists who have a whole cadre of students (the magazines are full of them) who are copycats of the instructor's style. Sad but true!  I believe, the measure of a good instructor is one who teaches the principles of sound painting and "guides" his/her students in developing their own signature. Teaching is not, should not be, an ego trip. Students should be encouraged to study and learn all they can about their craft, their style will develop in its own good time as they work.

As a student, my work exhibited an energetic brush work that I didn't understand and found difficult to control. Being without an instructor or mentor at that point in my career,  I literally worked hard to eliminate it and to establish what I felt was the "right" way for me to paint based on what I saw others doing. This had nothing to do with art classes or instructors.  It was my mind-set. I would have been much further ahead if I would have applied this energetic enthusiasm to my studies and allowed this to develop into my unique signature.  The effort to control and divert my natural inclinations unwittingly delayed any progress I hoped to make.

Today, as never before, I enjoy the freedom of being in touch with myself and have learned to ignore external influences in books, magazines,  DVD's, etc.  My style has evolved and I find once again that energetic loose brush work is important to my work.  I am not pursuing someone else's style but my own. In fact, I am pursuing it with a vengeance. It is at once exhilarating, freeing and really quite wonderful!

"It’s only with the heart one can see clearly. It’s what is invisible that is essential."
                                                                                                                                                        The “Fox” in The Little Prince


wtury1 said...

Thank you for giving such an easy to understand definition of artistic style, from the artists perspective. It seems that the artist himself (or herself) is the last one to recognize his (or her) style. I am just beginning to see these stylistic trends or commonalities in my own work by comparing recent pieces to those from years past. Having recognized this, how can I develop these strengths (aka style).

Sharon Griffes Tarr said...

If the thread you see is a good one that you'd like to expand on you need to begin using it in every study you do and explore various ways to enhance it, strengthen its usage, etc. Focus on doing studies where it's OK to explore and make mistakes. Don't focus on performing which stifles exploration and demands perfection. You need to set your study environment in a way that allows the freedom to see what comes with out controlling the outcome. Be sensitive to what is working and what is not. Keep pursuing every success and build on them. Focus on practicing 80% of the time and preforming only 20%of the time...you grow faster as an artist. Congratulations...what an exciting path you are on!