Friday, April 10, 2015

Developing a Style


A lot of people worry about "developing" a style.  Style is something reviewers like to write about.   But what is said about the topic is getting to be a little predictable and doesn't show any real imagination on the part of the reviewer.    They probably like to write about it because if an artist has a particular "style" it means that you as the viewer or Reviewer (one who looks again - if you think about it!) can appear very knowledgeable and say aha yes that's a so-and-so!!  Humans do like things to be recognizable - we like to be able to predict our world! We especially like to be One Up on those predictions!

Reviewers urge artists to develop a style and consequently many art quilt makers feel this is an important step on their journey...I've learned to piece and appliqué, I've learned about values...oh what's next ?  Aha ...develop a style!  And then one must make a Body of Work.  When I hear the phrase a Body of Work I always think about a human body endlessly (though not,alas, tirelessly) working and working and working...  I actually don't understand why the collective term for art work has become a "body".  It's nothing like as imaginative as a Murder of Crows, or a pride of lions, or a shrewdness of apes!  Or how about this: "an ostentation of peacocks" - isn't that wonderful?
and then us artists are down to a plain old Body.  A busy body usually - if one wants to develop that body.  It does sound rather muscular doesn't it?  I think maybe they want to put us off by making it sound hard.  Of course to develop the body, one needs a trainer!  So I think maybe in future i should style myself as a trainer.  Now I wonder if that would be called developing a style?
However, enough of these linguistic fantasies!    A Batting of Quiltmakers?

But apart from plumping up the egos of the know-it-alls, are there any reasons why one should Develop a Style?  And should this be done Deliberately?   Can  it actually be done deliberately?  Or should one just sit back, wait and hope that it will come like  the Tooth Fairy and that if we lie very still with eyes tight shut we might feel the firkling hand beneath the pillow?

As to the HOW one might deliberately develop a style...I think that's actually fairly straight forward.  Look at the art you like...narrow it down, print out your top 20 favorite quilts every - no matter who made them.  Pin them up on the wall and look at them.  What are the commonalities?  Once you know that, then deliberately build those commonalities into your work.  Yes it will feel weird and cumbersome at first, like developing a new tennis playing style, or a new hair style, or a new kind of handwriting, but soon it will become a part of you.  OR, you will realize, no I'm just not the kind of person who only works in black and white - or whatever it is - and you'll drop that aspect of style out.
So it's definitely Doable...and this will also happen gradually (as long as you don't take TOO many workshops in different techniques!) by itself as you narrow down your interests and fall into similar ways of working.

But WHY should you develop it?   Well "they" say it's because people (those d...d reviewers again!) like to be able to recognize your style.  That in the famous gallery in which you'll now be invited to show - having got your Style, visitors can recognize your work.  That everybody who wants something covered in Red Dots (or whatever is part of your style) knows to look through your portfolio.  But are these good things for you?  Do you want to be "classified"?  I've read about the problems in the popular singing world, that if you can't be classified as Rock or Reggae, Soft or Hard, Metal or techno, you're not attractive to the labels and the outlets. But is that really also true of art? of quilts???  Well perhaps so - in some ways.  I read that it's still the case in some quilt shows that one has to say whether or not one's work is pictorial, or abstract, figurative or landscape etc and that they will change you into another category - or reject you - if you don't fall into a specific type. But that's hardly a reason to limit yourself.

Now I do think there's a lot to be said for working in a series, and in fact devoted several pages to the why and how of doing that in my second (and probably last!) book:  Working in a Series.  And it's very likely that working in a series will lead to you developing commonalities in your own work - but wanting to Develop a Style Before you've made a lot of work, before you've worked in a series, etc might well be putting the cart before the horse.  Which makes it an uphill battle for that poor old nag!

So, since I don't want to continue beating the poor old nag of a topic!  I think I'll make a nice cup of tea and just not worry about style...I'm going to leave that up to the reviewers!
If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth


Chris Tait said...

I enjoed reading your pondering. The challenge is to know when I'm being a flibberty gibbert and distracting myself with every new technique/product, and when it's genuine play that will lead to new ways to express ideas. When is it variety? When is it fear and staying on the surface?

Margaret said...

Very interesting. Attended a seminar on "Finding Your Voice" presented by Leni Weiner at the SAQA conference in Santa Fe in 2013. She reviewed the work of 4 volunteer participants -- who were also present. One had taken many classes and incorporated techniques into each of her pieces...nothing really reflected her own 'take' on her subject, so heavily was she influenced by her teachers. The other 3 had done work that was not necessarily intentionally done in series but which had clear marks of a pattern or habit of working, a 'voice' -- which each had somehow failed to recognize. I agree that having a Style is one thing; sticking to it is another. :-) I think a Style or Voice can evolve over time and experience...but that somehow through that time and experience, a thread will remain to enable an audience to 'know' when it's your work, and not that of someone else.

Anonymous said...

This was a GREAT post and definitely things to ponder. Personally very timely as I have been exploring this myself. I am thinking more about just doing the work and letting it evolve, letting more content shine through and perhaps as suggested, working in a series and see where it goes.

Thanks for your thought provoking posts!

knitnkwilt said...

Your post is a breath of fresh air! I find trying for a style very limiting when I like to explore many things. (And exploring many things is not the same as following every fad.) I choose evolution of style as I explore.

Sarah said...

Lovely to hear another voice in the discussion of developing your voice/style. I have had trouble visualizing how creating a similar "body" of work really advances my ability to communicate the story or message that comes with each piece I create. If I were to have a one woman show, I would like the pieces to hang harmoniously together but I don't see a one woman show in the foreseeable future. I think we are all drawn to a certain range of colors, a certain way of drawing an idea and a list of techniques that we can actually do better than others. I have been thinking that those three things are what holds together my expression of an idea and at some point must be considered my voice. Whether it will be consistent enough to be easily recognized by the reviewers, is out of my hands. I think that striving for the recognition of voice rather than the best creative expression of an idea would hold me back rather than moving me forward. Just my thoughts.

Janis Doucette said...

Hello there! Well, you know that I've said before that I think "voice" is, at least in part, a marketing ploy and in a recent lecture with Leni Weiner, she asserted the same idea. You also know, I've been grappling with the idea of my own artist's voice for awhile now. Jeez, I wrote 3 blog posts about it. But now I see the light and I'm glad to see you more or less in agreement with this. I'm throwing my angst over it out the window and just going with the flow of my own approach, which is to hope I get better all the time while I'm having so much fun of it! Thanks for the kick!

Melanie McNeil said...

Interesting discussion, even beyond the word play! I do think quilters who design their own work will develop their own style naturally. Those who prefer to use others' patterns and designs might not. For the last couple of years I've been making medallion quilts -- LOTS of medallion quilts! The format is the same as it's been for hundreds of years. I try new approaches, colors, shapes, so each quilt is unique. Still, my medallions don't look like other people's medallions. I guess I have my own style.
Thanks for the post.