This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn’s alter ego, This Woman Writes, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art with her painter husband Steve, Carolyn is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” and the money saving book, Live Happily on Less.
I don’t have to ask you if you’ve ever been told, “Find your style and stick with it! That’s the secret of succeeding as an artist,” because I know that, if you’re an artist, you’ve heard this.
It is one of the conventional art wisdom platitudes uttered by gallery owners, university professors, art critics, art business seminar leaders and authors, and total strangers who are an unending resource of ideas on how to make your business succeed.
Interestingly, none of these people has a vested interest in the actual success of your business, nor do any of them have to deal with your monthly bills. Most of them do not create art themselves, although they deal with people who do -- they need artwork for their inventory, or they sell items or services to artists -- and based upon this experience, they guide, teach, and direct. For their own business, it’s more convenient, easy, and efficient to deal with artists that they can classify into niches: swirly landscapes, predominantly red abstracts, tight figuratives, or monochromatic seascapes.
(Remember: when you are dealing with people who are dealing with a lot of artists, it is inevitable that you will become a bit of a number or commodity. As nice as the people we are dealing with are, they still, to run their own business, need to think in terms of what works best for them. You, as a person running your own business, must not lose sight of what is best for you. The best business relationship between two parties is when the twain do meet, however lightly.)
On the surface, the find-your-style adage makes sense. I mean, we’ve all heard of Thomas Kinkade, right?
And there are other artists, associated with a particular style, some of whom even trademark their names.
But before we jump to the conclusion that the sole, primary, and principal reason that these artists “made it” is because they found a style and stuck with it, we might also consider that,
1) Lots of artist find a style and stick with it, and do not become household names,
2) If the style of the artist is so in demand, then all the various knock-off artists who replicate that style should make it as well,
3) Finding a style and sticking with it is a form of branding ourselves -- which is a major factor in marketing -- so success with this method is not limited to the quality of the artist’s work. Equally, or maybe more, important is the networking, the self-promotion, the time and economic environment in which the artist finds him- or herself, the contacts, and the publicity that come into play. Think, Andy Warhol. Or Jackson Pollock.
So yes, this idea of finding a style and sticking with it can work, but it will likely involve pursuing, aggressively, the self-branding philosophy, an issue we’ll be addressing later in this series of essays on Myths That Hold Us Back.
And also yes, the idea of finding a style and sticking with it does, on one level, have something to do with getting really good at what we do, but, and this is a BUT --
it can also prevent us from getting better at what we do because
1) we get stuck in a rut,
2) we are reluctant to experiment,
3) (don’t you love points in sets of three? I do) pushing ourselves through variety is one of the best way to improve our skills.
I might also add
4) some people, especially university students and new artists, are pressured into deciding on a particular style too early in their lives or career.
And while we’re at it, let’s add
5) many artists, convinced they have found their style, stick with it to the point of death and wonder why nothing ever goes anywhere, but tell themselves it’s because they haven’t been “discovered yet” (another myth we’ll look at later). They become slaves to a particular way of doing things for no other reason that they’re convinced that this is the way that things must be.
Next time, let’s talk about: "Variety and Experimentation: It’s What Art, and Life, Are All About"