Saturday, April 11, 2015

What does it mean to have an artistic style?

This is Esther's piece of an octopus that has been abstracted by her. Her life growing up near the ocean, and her continued influence of the ocean can be seen here.

As I push forward into this artistic journey with my family, I am forced to think about a great many things that I might not otherwise spend time on. One of those many things is this concept of 'style.' Style is something that you have to be aware of as you begin to display your work more and put it out there more for the public to see. An artist should probably understand the style they work in if they want to connect with an audience. Anyone who wants to appreciate and/or collect art will want background into the style that an artist works in. It is because of this that I write this piece today. 

I like to break things into clear and understandable parts so the concept is easy to understand. Part of this comes from my experience as a teacher. Fancy art language is not necessary to convey complex artistic concepts, contrary to some widely held beliefs. I will break this into three parts so both artists and viewers can equally appreciate my point of view on style and why it is important. 

For the artist, style is about what influences each painter, sculptor, etc. This can be a complex number of influences, but our world is rarely simple. However, if you want to make it understandable, then it is important to define influences in an understandable way. For me, I recognize where I come from, northern California, as a major part of my influence. For my mother, Esther, she grew up close to the ocean and always went fishing with her father. For these reasons, you can always see birds in my work and fish and other ocean-based animals in her work. Northern California and the ocean continue to both be strong influences for us. Those are just one part of our influences. Each artist has some core experiences that shape how and why they do things. Where and how they live can, and often are, parts of this influence on style. For the viewer, it begins to help give context as to why and how art works come to be what they are. For the artist, it is important to understand and talk about this so they can form a relationship with the viewer who is interested to know that background. For the viewer, the more that is known about an artist's personal history, the more sense a piece of art will make sense. It becomes part of the internal dialogue that can be created as each piece is viewed. 

Here you can see my preference for birds included in my composition. This comes partly from where I grew up along the Sacramento River in northern California.

Personal history is but one part. The second part is about artistic choices that each artist makes. The choices that each artist makes involves many, many different factors as each work of art is generated. For me, some of those choices are pushed by the fact that I grew up in an artistic family and was taught by my mother. Her style and ideas influenced my thinking. My college professors also influenced my thinking, in particular Marion Epting and Anne Pierce.  An artist's mentors are inseparable from the direction an artist takes in their career. Teachers are integral in developing anyone's direction in whatever they choose to do, so art is no different. It is why we often look to where different artist's are taught and work in their early years. Artistic choices are also influenced by artists from history that each person chooses to follow and emulate. Esther favors Delacroix, Arshile Gorky, and some of the impressionists. Sometimes we may or may not see direct influences in the work itself, but artists who have favorites from history are at least influenced indirectly in their thinking, if not directly in their work that they produce. For me, I am influenced by the way my mother creates her work, but also the historical work of Dali, and the period of the Baroque in Italy and the concept of teneberism. (Teneberism is the use of extreme light and dark in art to create a dramatic effect). If an artist wants to have an educated conversation about his or her work, then understanding historical influences and artistic choices are key. 
This drawing shows my influence of the artistic concept of teneberism that was used a great deal during the Baroque period in Italy in painting.

The last, and perhaps most important piece of understanding style is understanding the context of each individual art piece, and the context of an entire series. Context is what helps create a dialogue with the viewer. There are two dialogues that go on with each piece. There is what the created work of art says to each viewer, and then there is what the artist intended to to say with the piece of art. One is always changing because each viewer brings their own experience to each piece. Therefore, the dialogue between art and viewer is always somewhat different from person to person. The intent of what the artist wanted to create remains constant because that is based on one person, and that person is the artist. As an artist, it is the hope that the work is universal enough to capture an audience, but complex enough always keep the viewer thinking. Context is based on subject, materials, the method in which a work is created, historical/contextual relevance of the given subject, and appearance. You could add other factors, but this covers a lot of what context involves, from my point of view. Art is exactly that as well, it is based on points of view. Often times we deal with multiple points of view, so no work of art is really that simple, even if it is incredibly simple in appearance. 

When I create a work of art, I hope to create something that can generate a relationship with a viewer. As a viewer, I want something that speaks to me in such a way that I feel I can connect with it. A large part of this is based on the style of work an artist exhibits. For artist and viewer alike, I encourage them to look at style as a way of creating a relationship between the artist and the person viewing the work. 

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