A Matter of Style
Updated: Feb 4, 2019
I have never been happy doing things one way. Difficult problems require inspired solutions. At best, the danger of thinking in one way limits how one looks at (and solves) any given problem. At the worst, it's intellectual laziness: rote problem-solving with uninspired solutions.
Art-making is a peculiar problem (read: thrilling challenge). As my clients and social media family have probably noticed by now, I do not (cannot) work in one style. I personally find it self-limiting. Fellow artists have often mentioned how problematic the challenge of a blank wall, canvas, sheet of paper, etc...is. Understandably so. The gift of a blank slate is the gift of limitless opportunity.
The traditional advice given to artists and art students has been to find a natural style which feels right and stick to it. Whether by personal choice or the pressures of the art establishment, many artists preferred to work in this way. From the standpoint of a client, collector, critic, or gallerist, this approach makes sense. The visual "brand" of the artist is straightforward and easy to both recognize and sell. Still, the expectation that a Pollock look like "a Pollock", a Dali look like "a Dali", frustrates me.
The more modern (somewhat democratized) art establishment, one in which independent artists have multiple outlets to publish and sell their work, makes it easier for the artist to safely explore new visual vocabularies and reach broader audiences. With the appropriate hashtags, keywords, web platforms, and organization of the portfolio, I think it's possible not only to reach the correct audience, but reach new ones as well.
The heart of the issue may be a more divisive (and eternal) struggle artists have dealt with since "the first caveman paid a bone to visit a cave painting" (Rhodora, Velvet Buzzsaw, 2019). Artistic integrity (or lack thereof) within a consumer-driven art establishment may have something to do with the matter of style. After all, artists with staying power give the people what they want, don't they? To the extent the world's most successful artists satisfy the arbiters of culture and purveyors of "art", this is true. However, I also believe an artist can (and should!) produce work which satisfies the buying public while also feeding the creative beast within. This is not a zero-sum equation. Yes, I create site-specific artwork for clients, generally within the confines of a specific style. However, I also create work only for myself and no one else. Work that also feeds my soul and that I have no intention of ever selling. More importantly, having a diverse portfolio of work in different styles allows a variety of clients to point to a specific series of works and choose it for their project.
Having a diverse visual vocabulary is as important to the artist as having multiple languages is to the polyglot. When I approach a project, either for myself or a client, what I am really doing is leaning in to what they're actually saying, not what they're literally saying. The role of the artist is that of a conduit. We exist between worlds. We bring ideas into reality. Our purpose is to elevate consciousness by creating possibility and breaking down all the expectations people have developed by thinking in only one way. To that end, all art is dangerous. We create through destruction, and we do it over and over again--usually to the betterment of ourselves and the audience.
When taking a new job, I want to know how the client wants to feel; I want to know the way in which they relate to their world; I want to know not only who the client is but who the client thinks they are. Only when I know all of these things and lean into them can I begin the process of making something truly special; something which they will keep and grow with forever, and something which will have meaning today and new meaning tomorrow.
For all of these reasons, exploring new stylistic frontiers is my moral obligation. Ideas and concepts come preinstalled with their own ghosts in the shell, and translating the same concept multiple ways can lead to surprising new takes on the same idea. Maintaining a diverse visual vocabulary is not only a way to think out of the box, it's a thoroughly modern take on art-making for the 21st century art-establishment. Stay dangerous. It's our job.