In order to project a professional image as an artist, you must be able to define yourself and your art in a sea of untold numbers of artists. To do this, you must first find your style.
What is “style” as it relates to your art?
“Style” is a word we use freely and without much thought. But what does it mean? In her book Living With Art, Rita Gilbert writes that “style is a characteristic or group of characteristics that we can identify as constant, recurring, or coherent.” She goes on to say, “Artistic style is the sum of constant, recurring or coherent traits identified with a certain individual or group.”
An artist’s style is not good or bad. It just IS. The execution might be criticized, the colors might be perceived as ugly, or the composition seen as weak, but the style is what it is.
Your style is a combination of the mediums, technique, and subject matter you choose. It’s not just that you make contemporary quilts or that you paint landscapes. Those are genres. It’s that extra little thing you do to distinguish your work from that of other artists.
Two quilt artists might each create abstract, colorful compositions using the same traditional block. If both were mature artists, however, we’d probably be able to tell one artist’s work from the other. For example, a fiber artist might employ one or more of the following in creating the quilt:
- Hand-dyed fabrics from organic dyes
- Loose threads hanging on the surface (rather than hiding them)
- A particular fabric that becomes a signature of sorts
- Text written with ink on top of the quilt
In other words, she becomes known for works that contain a certain characteristic. For a painter it might be loose brushstrokes, impasto, or a repeated image. Alexander Calder added primary colors + black to organic shapes for his kinetic sculptures. Cindy Sherman transforms her own image in each photograph she prints. What are you known for?
When you have more than one style
You can work in as many styles as you want, but if you have two very different bodies of work you will do twice the work marketing it. For three different styles, you should exert three times the marketing effort if you want to do it right. Each body of work that looks like a different person did it should be marketed to its own audience.
3 different styles of art = 3 different audiences = 3 times the marketing effort
Some artists choose to have a very narrowly defined style and seem to produce almost the same artwork over and over again with differences in color or scale. Adolph Gottlieb, for instance, painted his trademark “Bursts” over and over again. Some were better than others, but they all have the same basic elements. His close friend, Mark Rothko, became known for large bands of thin pigment floating on the canvas surface. The colors differ, but we know a Rothko when we see it.
You don’t have to stick to one image as Gottlieb and Rothko did in their maturity. Having a style doesn’t mean you must produce the same work over and over again. It simply means that you have created work that others identify with you.
There isn’t a higher compliment you can receive than for someone to exclaim, “Hey! That looks like a Julie Blackman painting!” from across the room. (Unless, of course, your name isn’t Julie Blackman.)
You won’t find your style under a rock or by wishing for it. You can only do it through hard work and dedication.