This is a question that I was recently asked. In fact, I have been asked by a number of people over the years. Thanks to Elese in the United States for asking the question which reminded me that this is a good topic to blog. Here’s my answer.
I have worked as a professional artist my whole life. The first 20 years as a full time graphic artist working in advertising and arts education, and the next 20 years as a full time fine artist. I have been teaching in both fields for a combined 34 years. I have always questioned what galleries and art critics said when they told me to establish one style of painting.
Personally I don’t think it matters if you have one or more styles. If you are an exhibiting artist then yes I agree, it is a good practice to exhibit a body of work that is undeniably ‘yours’. It’s great when people can walk into an exhibition or see a painting and recognise your style. But at your next exhibition you might produce another body of work with a slightly different theme, style of painting, medium or topic.
A truly dedicated, soulful artist will abhor the idea of working continually in one style especially if it is for the sheer purpose of keeping a gallery happy. It is perhaps easier for them to market you but not at the expense of limiting your growth as an artist. You don’t want to end up throwing in the towel because painting has lost its appeal and spontaneity because you are trying to manufacture a ‘look’ which sells.
I might be slightly rebellious in this regard. As a graphic artist I was required to be as diversified as possible but as a fine artist it was suggested I develop one style uniquely mine. Problem was I had at the time about 5 styles, all completely different but the colour palette mostly the same. When people came to my gallery they often asked if all the artists were local, and I would answer ‘yes they are, these are all my works’. There was often a look of amazement but never a negative comment about the diversity of my work. The upside for me is that I sell a good amount of work because my paintings appeal to a wide audience…those who like abstracts, semi-abstracts, florals, impressionistic scenes and more traditional styles of art.
Quite frankly I would die of boredom if I had to paint in just one style. Artists have spirit and feeling, and it is through that sensitivity to nature and the world that we MUST express ourselves in whatever way we desire. It’s such a remarkable journey that flip flopping about trying out styles, mediums, subject matter is just a massive part of the creative learning curve.
This is of course just my own opinion and I can only tell you what has worked for me. If you talk to other artists, gallery owners and art critics, I am sure they will give you a different point of view. Listen to everyone, then make your own decision on what best works for you.
Develop a few styles if you want. You will find both your client and market for your work broadens. I have clients who have bought paintings from me for the last 10-20 years because they are inspired by a whole new range of paintings when they come to an exhibition. Many of them own 5-12 works of mine but they are all completely different, so in their homes it doesn’t look like the same artist created all their work but they still all work harmoniously together.
It doesn’t matter what you paint, how you paint, or who might even like your work. What is important is that you paint, paint, paint, play, dabble, push yourself and enjoy the journey! Get loads of painting experience under your belt, explore everything you’d like to and you might find you fall in love with a particular style, theme or colour palette. If you do a whole bunch of paintings but your style changes along the way… just go with it.
Express yourself, find your inner creative God or Goddess and enjoy the journey of discovery, creating joyous works of art that you are proud of. If you do that, then that joy will be evident in your work and people will be drawn to it for that very reason.
Don’t limit yourself, be kind to the child within and find your own creative bliss!