Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Whoa! What a concept!
"A signature style is about consumerism, not art. It makes life easier for those who are selling, buying or writing about the artist's work."
Raya in the Tech Talk Forum at www.forum.artistnetwork.com

Wow, that really hit me smack in the head when I read it in Artist's Magazine (June 09 issue). It makes so much sense. Somehow we are convinced that we must have a reconizable style to either BE an artist or SUCCEED as an artist. Conversely, those who create in various categories or work in myriad media are sometimes considered dabblers rather than real artists. That can't be true either.

I know for myself that I struggled to pin down my style, altho lots of folks have told me that they can tell what is my work, even if I can't. But was that just so much fuss for nothing? And what about when things look as different as these pieces?
Is one more artistic than the other, or just more commercial? Eek. My head spins.

Here's something else to think about. Theresa Troise Heidel wrote in Letters to the Editor in the same magazine:

A few years ago a young English boy said something unforgettable to me. I was painting Warwick Castle, while sitting under a tree in the rain. The boy was part of a large group of students getting off a bus. They all came over to look at my painting. He asked me, "Do you sell your paintings or do you do it for the sake of it?"

Yipes! Now that I am getting ready to get back to work, and I'm wondering about my own need to make art. I do NEED to be creative and now that I am officially retired, how do I want to do it? I love it when someone wants to buy my art, and it sure helps not to be tripping over piles of it in the house and garage, but why am I really doing it?

Because I can't be me if I don't. Because it makes me happy while I am making it. Because it would be a waste of supplies not to use them up. Because it would be a waste of ability not to make use of it. Because of the ZONE it puts me in while I am working. Because it is all inside dying to get out.


  1. Amen and Bravo, Mel! (No need to add to what you've already said.) Hope the knee continues to do well!

  2. Because we, your audience, crave your art and you are a people pleaser! I do love that colorful garlic piece!!!

  3. Anonymous8:45 AM

    Maybe these questions would test your theory: if nobody ever bought any of whatever you produce, would you quit and find something else to do? If the only comments you got on it were that it was ugly, would you continue? (I'm not being snarky; I'm trying to figure this out for myself as well!)

  4. Excellent questions Anon!!!
    I would no doubt be unhappy to get negative comments and would seriously have to question my efforts. But if I were alone on a desert island forever, wouldn't I want to decorate it to my liking? Maybe, maybe not.
    I just know that when the juices are flowing and I know I am making something GOOD, it matters less if anyone else likes it. But then, they WILL because it will be good!
    That's the way it has worked in the past anyway...
    And realistically we are not working in a vacuum. It does matter what others think, but how much it matters is up to us.

  5. I found myself smacking my forehead after reading your blog post -- thank you! I can so see that having a very focused and limited style is about marketing!

    Preliminary thoughts though also suggest that there will be some style or relative unity to my work as an artist, not because of market pressures, but because I truly enjoy the creative process and form habits... Over time I'm sure my style shifts and morphs, but during any one "phase" of my development there are "trends" maybe... but then again....

    hmmm will definately have me thinking for a while....

  6. Yes, we do it for lots of reasons - but a big reason is because we HAVE to create, and are miserable when we can't!

    I totally get that the "signature style" is mostly for the consumer...and for a minute I panicked, because I've working towards that, thinking it to be a goal. But then, I realize that what I've been doing is learning to work in a series, to develop a certain idea...and we can have more than one series and work on different ideas, going back and forth between them. Those series may be very similar, (ex: Lisa Calls Structures vs Markings)so similar that to most people they are easily from the same artist (or they don't even see the difference between the series) or the series can be as different as your 2 versions of garlic!

    As always, wonderful food for thought! Thanks!

  7. So good to read your post this morning as I'm struggling with the same issue. Some of my artist friends tell me they aren't going to make any more art because they haven't sold what they have, but the very idea makes me panicky. I've decided that I have to create--it's who I am and what I do. It's great if someone else wants to buy it, but it's not the reason I do it. I love being in the zone!

  8. Oh me three! It's all about that zone... nothing like it, nothing even close. That's my place, that's why I do what I do. And it is cool to see this idea that having a specific style is about consumerism, I "get" that and it's freeing to realize that for what it is and let it go and move on. Yay!

  9. As others have said, lots to think about in this post. One thing does strike me though, about these two paintings. The colors of the first painting appeal to me and so does the simplicity of the second painting; however, to me, the first painting says Mrs. Mel all over it. It just sings out that "Hi, Melody Johnson painting... right here!!"

  10. Melody,
    Whatever creative juices you have flowing around that are dying to get out----OPEN up that door and let them flow. Your creative process (know matter what it is) is what makes you come alive and be the person you are--- which is WONDERFUL in many ways.

  11. Can't we create just to create? To please only ourselves? If it pleases someone else and they want to purchase a piece then that is the icing on the cake, isn't it? We can't fit into a "mold" and only create what someone else will "like", can we? To me that defeats the purpose of our creating and stifles what we feel inside. We get dissatisfied with ourselves and we want to quit. We're never going to please the masses and why should we?? Don't we do it mostly for ourselves and the pleasure we get from the process and the outcome? I stopped getting art magazines years ago because it made me feel LESS creative and I questioned myself too much. I kept comparing my work with those in the magazine and thinking I wasn't quite good enough. Think about that, Mel. :)

  12. Thank you for the thoughtful post this morning. Amen, Amen.

    Don't know who it was that said, "Art is something you do when it hurts too much not to."

  13. I too read that quote about a signature style, and felt tremendous relief. Lately I've been really worried about my inability to focus on one medium/style/subject, and how that makes me a "dabbler" instead of an "artist." Now I feel at least a little more free to continue to pursue what interests me!

  14. Thanks for saying all of that ... especially the last paragraph.

  15. I agree that it's mostly about the Zone for me. I had a forehead-slapping moment over the weekend when my sil asked me if I sell many of my artquilts and how many have I sold in the past 6 mos.? First of all, what is it to her? The forehead-slapping came when I started really thinking about it. I have sold several in the past 6 mos. Certainly not enough to make a living from just that, but surely enough to buy more fabric!
    Why do I get a site selling entertainment tickets when I try to go to your link for artistnetwork?

  16. Anonymous2:51 PM

    Thanks Mel! You are a great inspiration to me and I am grateful for you! I just wanted to add my two cents in on this one. Whether I am creating art or "ugly stuff" I get downright cranky if I don't produce something at least once a week. I create because I find my self easier to live with!

  17. I've been thinking about this post all day, and this question popped into my mind: "Did Vincent Van Gogh ever ponder whether he had a 'signature style'? I think not... and yet, his painting style was incredibly distinctive. However, comparing his early works with his later years, there is no doubt that his 'signature style', the one we all relate to when we think of him, developed over time. So yes, he had one, but I doubt if he gave much thought to it!
    I do agree, though, that your first photo is much more of what I relate to when I think of your work I have seen posted here and on your website. The second example demonstrates your ability to render... I have a few examples of those myself... but it doesn't reflect your personality as the first example does. So there!

  18. I've been musing on the same subject lately. Dabbler or artist, does it matter? Do I need to be commercial? Nope. I do what I do because I need to, because without it I go a bit crazy (okay, a lot crazy!). The Zone is my very favourite place to be!

  19. Liz in IN7:59 AM

    Of course a signature style often has to do with commercialism. It's the same with authors and actors. Stephen King. Patricia Cornwell. Meg Ryan. etc. They're as much *brands* as they are 'artists'.

    I think we fret over the "artist" or "dabbler" distinction because the world pushes us to *define* ourselves in such terms. I push back.

    "So...what do YOU do?"

    Years ago, I used to be very uneasy about such social-situation-questions, as I had no 'career' (and therefore, no identity). My darling husband gave me the perfect answer. When someone asks that infamous question, whether the invisible scales of judgment are in their hands or not, I offer a huge smile and say joyfully,

    "Oh, I do ALL KINDS of things! I read, and bike, and hike, and knit, and quilt, and garden, and cook, and draw, and paint and...."

    If they have the audacity to interrupt with "Oh, no. I mean, what do you do *for a living*?", then I've *really* got their number. So, I smile even wider and say, "Oh, I'm so lucky. I don't have to do that. I just play and create and enjoy, all day long!"

    I have other ways of 'defining' myself. My activities are just what I do for fun. And they are so much fun. But they're not 'who I am.'

    I lived in an area where the (enormous) quilt guild's members main focus seemed to be to sell quilts and become known. Can you say 'joy suck'? Thankfully we moved.

    Here's to dabbling!! Yay!

  20. You and Arlee both have my haed aspinning today. Its really funny but I have found myself gravitating lately to a certain 'style' and after I read this I realized that I was putting myself into a catagory...something I never want to do. We must never be afraid to step over the lines and reach beyond the perceived boundries. There is where the true creativity lies...

  21. I have yet to find "my style" but am definitely enjoying my creative journey. I do what I do because it's fun to play. Would be wonderful if my work sold, but not manatory for me to continue to produce.

  22. Anonymous12:44 AM

    I'm late to the comments, but I have to say that you cannot help but have a signature style just as you have unique handwriting. We are what we are and who we are inevitably shows up in our work. We favor certain colors, placement, designs etc.

    I have to make art and if someone likes what I do, wonderful! If not, I can't be someone else so I don't worry about it. I've been successful enough to keep going.

  23. Melody,
    I feel that an artist's style is unique to them, just like fingerprints. Whether they know it or not, the rest of us can look at one of their pieces and know instantly who did it.


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