Last night I watched an episode of Portrait Artist of the Year on YouTube. Have you seen this terrific British show? Painters from all over the UK submit a self-portrait to be juried into the competition. As viewers, we get to see their initial submission, hear the three judges’ critique of it, and watch in amazement as the contestants paint a portrait of a well-known celebrity, who must sit as still as possible for the entire time!
The artists have four hours to complete their portrait—in front of an audience of interested passersby, no less—and the winner of each episode is chosen by the same panel of three judges. The victor moves on to the next round and eventually, as with all competition shows, there is only one left standing to receive the prize.
Several things astonish me about this show. First of all, portraits are not one of my talents, so to watch all the different ways in which the artists go about creating one is quite intriguing. Some artists take a photograph and use that to get their initial sketch. Others start off with no sketch at all, and somehow out of all the seemingly random marks, the face emerges. To see the sitter’s likeness come to life in so many different ways is incredible. These are some talented folk!
I could go on and on about this program, but…surprise! It’s not really the topic of this post.
In the particular episode I saw last night, the judges were surprised when one artist started his painting in a totally different style than the one he used for his self-portrait. When interviewed, he claimed, “I don’t want to have a style. I don’t want to be one of those artists who has a style.”
I had to laugh. In fact, I’m still laughing. Talk about a “lightbulb” moment!
All the advice I’ve ever heard on how to be a successful artist says you must have a recognizable style. The internet is crammed with articles on how to find your own style. And there are so many artists whose work is immediately recognizable, because their styles are so distinct. “Oh, that’s definitely an Erin Hanson.” “Look at this incredible Rita Kirkman.” “A Betty Franks for sure.”
And yet, here was a professional artist claiming that, not only doesn’t he have the much coveted and longed for “personal style,” he doesn’t even want one! WHAT!!!!!
I’ve bemoaned the lack of a recognizable style for years. Your style, your art, is supposed to be the deepest expression of “you.” What does that even mean? I’ve been insisting that my art is not any kind of deep personal expression; it does not express anything in particular; I just love painting.
I love painting in different styles, from realism to abstract and everything in between. Now that I’ve been playing with abstracts, the styles and methods I’m using are even more diverse and the work I’m turning out even less cohesive. I find the whole idea of having only one style to be stifling.
Certainly, I see that if approaching a gallery (which I plan to do eventually), one’s style does need to be cohesive. It makes for a much stronger showing. It shows the gallery and its patrons what they can expect from you. Not only that, when shown together, similarly themed work has a power to it that random pieces in different themes and styles simply does not have. I know this from my own experience of painting in a series.
But before last night, I saw my inability to find my niche as a serious impediment to ever having a successful art career. No longer! I feel completely liberated to continue painting whatever makes me happy, which is pretty much everything except portraits, lol. I will forget trying to focus in on any specific style or color palette, or create work with single theme or subject matter, because that’s just not me.
I have always been somewhat chameleon-like. I’ve had multiple careers. I’ve been a redhead, had punk-black hair, and dabbled with pink, purple, and turquoise streaks. My taste in clothing has always been extremely eclectic. I love to mix dots and stripes and patterns in one outfit. And as soon as I decorate my home in a boho style, I start craving the look of minimalism.
That is me, so why would my art be any different? How could my art be any different?
Funny that it took the comment of an artist on a reality TV show for me to realize that my art totally expresses me, the ever-changing, ever-growing, fickle, fabulous me!
It seems that art is about personal expression, no matter how changing and varied that may be, and whether the artist realizes it or not. Glad I finally realized it.