Part of the journey to finding your voice, in art and in life, means finding your unique style. Much of our conditioning insists on sanctioned modes of expression, which can muddy the waters and stymie us from stepping into a style of being and expression that feels authentic.
My experience is that most people have to hack through life with a metaphorical machete to find what feels genuine for them. I believe a fundamental human dilemma is believing we all need to share the same reality or approach to life. Why else would our intellects have evolved, yet our attachment to war and conflict not abated?
One of my favorite singers, Vonda Shepard, speaks to the challenge of finding one’s authentic voice, in the midst of society’s conditioning, in her song Mischief and Control (from her album It’s Good Eve, available at Amazon.com), referring to the “painter” in all of us, as she seeks to express herself. For me “control” is a creativity-killer, and “mischief” speaks to the importance of play in finding your voice, while learning to ignore the chorus of other voices…
…But there’s an army of voices
She might have to get through… – Vonda Shepard
While my dear Momma Liz continues to coach me from the great beyond, I remember her always urging me to experiment and to try different approaches on my journey to finding my own style. She also reminded me that the world would be full of people telling me to follow their paths, and to not be discouraged.
Visit and explore the buffet of myriad styles of expression.
I’m indebted to my mom, and to other teachers who were placed in my path, who encouraged me, beyond all else, to step out of normal perspectives, and to try different things. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t well-instructed in foundational techniques and style, but rarely was I admonished to stay within narrow guard rails of acceptability.
I pride myself on being fairly level-headed, but my ire escalates when I hear of impressionable students being told they “must” adhere to established rules. A good teacher, in my opinion, instructs on perfecting the different techniques, but doesn’t instill fear in a student who might want to venture outside of defined norms. As an established watercolorist, I get a little crazy when I hear of people being instructed to stay within ways that are “purist”. I’d probably draw derision from some watercolor instructors in the technique I’ve developed over the years.
In my freshman year in college, I had an English composition instructor who was unusually tough. I was used to getting A’s and B’s in high school, yet he “razored” my first compositions in his class. I was devastated. However, in a teacher-student conference, he looked me squarely in the eyes and told me he knew I was gifted creatively, and that he would love having me in a creative writing class. He further explained he was determined to teach me to write flawlessly in the basics of composition. He was good on his promise, especially after I parked my creative ego and embraced what he had to offer. The key for me, in his teaching technique, is that he armed me with the foundational techniques, while simultaneously recognizing and encouraging my desire to explore creatively. This teacher gave me proficiency in the basics from which to explore my voice and my creative potential in writing. Subsequently, instructor after instructor in college would ask, “Who taught you how to write?” while remarking that someone clearly had done a good job.
Van Gogh and Picasso wouldn’t have evolved their styles of expression if they had listened to other artists and critics who snobbishly insisted on adherence to sacred techniques of expression. Both were trained in classical basics, but they both remained true to where their souls were guiding them. Sadly, Van Gogh’s emotionally alive works never were validated or celebrated while he was still alive. Picasso, was a different story.
Personal style often is developed as the result of being exposed to many different modes of expression and instructors, and collecting nuggets along the way, and then combining them into your unique style. For me, my painting style has been influenced significantly by my exposure to immensely talented photographers as part of my creative life in marketing. I can’t help composing a painting without thinking of the paper or canvas as a lens, with so many options for composition and depth of field.
When you evolve and land on your unique style, your soul will have ways of telling you – not your head, or some intellectual process. I believe you’ll know it, in your heart and in your bones.
My parting thoughts, in the journey to finding your own voice and style, is not to pursue being different just to be different. Many people are looking for a gimmick to define themselves as being unique. Art critics and gallery owners often are chumming the waters for something new and sensational vs. something that is genuine, and this can detour some artists away from pursuing what is authentic for themselves.
Carl Jung was a champion of authenticity and, in my opinion, was ground-breaking in his approach to self-realization. Godspeed to us all as we navigate our way to our true voice.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
― C.G. Jung