Every artist faces the question of style, of what the look or feel of their work is or should be. I have had to ask myself questions about my stylistic choices many times. Yet, choosing a style in itself really is not as important as it may seem. Focusing on a style can even be a distraction to an artist as he develops and builds his art. What becomes important regarding artistic style is the question of what those stylistic choices support.
I have seen artists approach the question of style in many ways. To some the decision of what style to use is as important as the decisions of what subjects or themes to include in their work. Others relegate the style to a more subordinate position, only allowing their stylistic choices to be determined by other aspects of their work they deem to be more important, the opinion that I subscribe to. Others view it as something to consider after the act of creation, allowing style to be considered only on reflection on the work, as a tool used to understand the art. This concern is often weighed against other concerns and seen as in competition with other concerns.
In a discussion with group of artists, one asked if he should switch styles and go in a new direction. The question was whether he should continue to paint the in the style of traditional realism he had been painting or paint in a more contemporary style. The discussion that followed considered the particular merits of either direction. I did not feel the discussion was particularly fruitful. Mainly because it artificially pits one category against the other in some sort of battle for superiority and the division between the two seemed murky, the boundaries of each category changing only to support the claims of which one is best. Still the artist was presented with the question of style. I sensed he had grown bored with the work he was doing and was looking for something new to try. In a search for something new the question of style came up. My answer to this is that what style one chooses does not really matter all that much, find what interests or inspires you as an artist follow that. Look at what motivates you, what ideas you bring to your work to guide you; the style will evolve from that.
This brings up the question of what do we mean when we are talking about style. There are a couple of directions we can go with this. We could be talking about the different movements or categories of art, such as cubism, impressionism and such, each with a style of their own. Style could also be seen simply as the different techniques employed to create a certain look. Both are valid ways of discussing style, but when artists are exploring their own personal styles I think it is more useful to look at it in terms of individual concepts and techniques used to convey the artists intentions.
To examine and emulate styles is alright to do when learning new ideas and it can be very informative to try out new elements. As a painter I enjoy trying out the visual elements I see in other artist’s works. This is an exercise in expanding my vocabulary, and allows for me to grow as an artist. This exercise is not designed to be something to determine what I should paint, or what style I should follow. Trying out different techniques is a form of learning, not meant to be a form of expression. In the end, the new effects or techniques discovered from this should only be employed if found useful beyond any stylistic dazzle they may create.
Style, then, is not something I specifically address when I paint. I do find that I am concerned about it, but I do not attempt to paint in a style. I sometimes think that I worry about it to much. For example, I make an effort to ensure that my work has some level of consistency and coherency and I sometimes look to stylistic effects to make sure a similarity carries to each of the paintings. My goal is to let style come through in exploring the ideas I am interested in examining when I paint. I am very interested in visual understanding and perception, and I look for techniques and ideas that help explore and express this in my work.
I don’t think one necessarily does need to pursue a style. Looking at varying styles, playing around with techniques, and studying the interests and motivations behind each, all are reasonable things to do. Consider style as part of the vocabulary of painting; not as an end in itself. Focus on what one is trying to convey and pursue that.