This week I am working on a new painting of Elephant Head Rock, a large formation in the Santa Rita Mountains just north of Tubac, AZ. Yesterday I was at Cobalt Fine Arts in Tubac, painting in gallery for the Tubac arts festival. A gloomy morning with snow on the ground gave way slowly to sunshine and a beautiful, cool day for the festival - which put smiles on the faces of most of the festival goers.
What I wanted to talk a bit about in this blog was something that has come up again and again in conversation with artists and collectors; and that's originality. Of course the seeking of originality is as old as the arts - and I do not pretend to cover new ground with it, rather only to share a bit more and maybe shed a little light.
For some time Bobby Lee Krajnik and I talked yesterday about originality in the arts, and she mentioned something that I found very interesting. She said that she had taken some workshops here and there, and heard some curious comments from instructors. One instructor who saw her work told her that he didn't want to change her style and work that style out of her. He felt that she had clearly arrived at something distinct, and he didn't want to change it by bending her too much to the instructor's will. Bobby Lee also relayed that another instructor had told her that frequently artists will take course after course and so many workshops that whatever instinct for personal style they had before gets diluted, and in the course of being affected by the styles of work demonstrated by the instructors - they never really find a personal style.
I shared with her what I have said to some other trusted people who were interested in how I devised the look of my own works; I told them that I do the reverse of taking courses and critiques and bouncing ideas off other artists. I put on blinkers and work like a monk. I try as hard as possible to shut out every other opinion of every other kind of art ever - and I try to answer the question: "How would I paint this scene?" Bobby Lee and I pretty much agreed that too much input from other artists allow them into your head, and at some point, if you don't clarify where your influences are coming from, you yourself are not painting - you and some other people are painting.
Of course, we all have our influences. When I look at other artist's work, I look primarily at Van Gogh and my friend Jean-Claude Quilici. I too glean something from those who came before me. I have found that other artists are wonderful in helping you learn the materiels needed to get certain effects, and with some of the kind of shop talk tips that are useful in the arts. But as regards to style, I still think that is a personal search - instruction can teach you a certain skill set. Style is a product of self reflection. It is not easy...
So my suggestion, if anyone might bother to ask - is that if you are one who likes to take courses, keep them in perspective in as much as they can increase your skill set and perhaps give you personal time with an excellent artist. But I would also suggest that you construct a kind of art that has a style that is built on your own self reflections - and visions that do not belong to anybody else.
So yes, spend some time shading and learning how to paint that eye, or head, or tree - but spend a little time dreaming. Spend some time, and a little paint and canvas, on that vision that is only yours. That thing only you can create - and only your neglect can supress.