The answer to the infamous question of style seems to be of the elusive kind. To paraphrase Frank Webb, many an artist undergoes great mental anguish through worrying about their style. And that’s understandable. I was no different. And you can’t find answers on the question of style that easily. Perhaps it’s so little talked about because eventually, after putting in the work, you’ll arrive at satisfying conclusion by yourself. After all, I believe the way of an artist is a way of inner transformation. It is a journey of discovery. And so it’s up to each individual to discover through themselves what art is, what the world is and eventually, who they are.
Until this realization kicks in, however, there’s much determination necessary to move forward without firmly established identity. That’s why I present here my thoughts on the topic. My hope is that they may help you recognize the context and better understand where you are and where you’re heading.
So what really is this “style”? Let me begin with the bigger picture. In principle, we, people, Homo Sapiens, we are all the same. We are one. All of the differences among our species that we perceive as radical wouldn’t really be as pronounced to an outside observer. Think about it, physically, we are practically the same, our organs are identical around the globe. Similarly, the way we think, as a species, is not vastly different in any part of the world. And the world is laughably small when seen in the context and vastness of our universe. The individual cultures have their own “flavors”, but if you ever interest yourself in the study of mythology, you’ll find the same traits, the same overall principles underlying all that has ever been written, painted, said and done. There are the same intentions, the same motives, the same instincts across all human civilizations. “That’s what makes us humans,” refers to the very fact that there’s something profoundly us in all of us. With this understanding therefore comes a realization that we’re all accessing one pool of shared universal thought, or as coined by Carl Jung, “collective unconscious”.
With this realization in mind, what happens on a much smaller scale is that we try to access this knowledge, this pool. I think that in the case of individual artist’s style, we do this through aspirations. Let me explain. Each of us has an inherent idea of “beauty” strongly embedded in us (by “beauty” I refer to the overall set of our personal preferences). We aspire to become like someone else, most likely someone who shares our own idea of beauty, who likes and practices the style we like, because they already managed to tap into that which we want to access for ourselves. We like their work and want to mimic them, copy them, and it’s because the “beauty” we’re after has already materialized in their work. It is made visible through them. It is tangible and it gives us proof that yes, what we feel and know deep down actually exists. And thus begins our quest.
The quality of our work is dependent on the quality of our heroes. They show us how far we can reach. We may not otherwise have the ability, capacity or experience to strive for that much. We simply wouldn’t know how far to reach. We set our own bar. It is often said that we are our own worst enemy and that our own mind is our biggest limitation. This, in part, may be a result of our childhood or a number of external factors that crossed our path in life. But if we can expand beyond what we think about the world and we do this through those who already reached far beyond the individual, we can achieve much bigger things that we could ever dream of. And so it is a good idea to look around and “collect” what we like and who we like. Get inspired through them. Listen to what they have to say, observe the way they do things. You are the company you keep, after all, and so surrounding yourself with that which is bigger than you is going to provide a good sense of proportion.
All of this helps us evolve into the best version of ourselves. To be genuine and original means to be true to who we are, making sure we are building upon our inherent tendencies. The resulting style then simply cannot be unoriginal and there’s no need to worry about it too much. We combine all the inputs we accumulate, all the things we are interested in, all that inspires us, into one very original combination. Each followed lead enriches us, betters us. Therefore casting wide nets is for the best. Experience everything you can. Be as curious as a child. Explore and copy, be inspired.
On a smaller scale still, our personality plays an important role in our individual preferences. We have inherently either more emotional or analytic personality. This aspect explains what we look for in art. If we’re an emotional person, we think of translating our emotional experiences into art. Events that strongly impact our lives are dealt with through art. Emotion is of paramount importance for such individual and their work manifests as a coping outlet. If we’re on the other end of the spectrum, our interest may be more strongly in patterns, in the manipulation of the plastic elements of art. The organization of the picture is of paramount importance and we believe through it our self is expressed. Ideally emotion meets design half way and work hand in hand. Those are the works that affect us strongly, for their emotional impact is supported by a strong sense of order.
I hope this article gives you something to think about and perhaps helps you think about style as a more complex yet very natural problem. Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below and please consider sharing the article with your friends if you enjoyed it.