Sunday, August 26, 2018

How important is a personal style in art?

I think on some level we all want to be unique. Even when we're admiring and aspiring to be as accomplished as someone else, we still want to leave our own mark and have a personal style. At least I hope so.

But personal style can be tough to nail down. Painterly or precise, which way does the needle point? Seems like the thing we are most passionate about should come through without having to really force the issue. When I paint still life that "thing" is realism, hopefully with a touch of a poetry... or maybe humor. It used to trouble me that my interior paintings were less realistic ...and not at all humorous! Does that mean I have no style?!

Vintage camera, glass of bourbon, classic movie dialogue
(SOLD) Here's Looking at You ©2018 Dorothy Lorenze

Turns out what interests me in a still life is different from what interests me in an interior scene. For still life it's about defining and comparing objects and textures in a way that differentiates them or describes their inter-relationship. Interiors are more about atmosphere and mood. Sure, there are textural differences to convey and light and shadow to describe, but in the end it's about communicating the essence of a place, a time of day or even an era. There's a difference in focus more than a difference in style.

backlit interior, window light, Victorian house
Back to the Light, San Francisco ©2018 Dorothy Lorenze, 12 x 16"

I'd been thinking about this a lot lately having just completed this historic Victorian house interior, followed by the very detailed still life of a vintage camera, above. Both paintings were challenging in different ways - which made me realize that difference was a matter of focus, not style. And suddenly it felt just fine. What I don't want to do is to follow the trends of others that don't connect with me.

Coincidentally, I listened to an Oprah Winfrey Master Class podcast recently. These aren't woo woo motivational speeches, but interviews with varied and accomplished artists who also happen to be amazingly humble. The talk with Alicia Keys was especially meaningful at the moment. I was interested in the contrasts within her personality: confident and humble. Even early in her career, she was able to insist on following her own style when record executives knew they could make her a star as a pop artist. But she knew she had a different passion to follow.

Alicia cautioned to avoid molding to the mainstream. "We are all walking a journey that is constantly evolving before us. Plan, but be open to life." Be open to life. Now, that's a plan for enrichment!

In contrast, she also had had a habit of downplaying her hopes as a kind hedge against failure. Then her writing partner challenged her use of self-deprecating, negative phrases like, "with my luck..." or, "that could never happen..."  He said if that's what you say, that's how it will be and she realized "the things we say build our road - words have power." So she banned words like "if" and "probably". Alicia Keys is determined and confident. And she also works very hard!

So how does this relate to painting? I think it's important to determine the direction you want to go and really work toward that thing. Stay focused on what feeds your soul without getting distracted by trends that work for others. There is nothing wrong with thinking of artwork as work! The analogy to music is apt - no one expects to pick up a violin and be able to play. It takes work, it's not all about inspiration. (But if you're looking for inspiration try listening to Master Class or Your Creative Push podcasts.)

And finally, Alicia says it's important to stay humble because "that's the only way to continue to become your best. You have to keep an eye on where you've been to appreciate where you are now."

How true. Improving means setting new goals and taking on new challenges. Sometimes you just have to paint a camera with concentric circular lens details! And then go back and look at early attempts at ellipses and circles - hopefully it will be an enlightening comparison!

On the subject of "being open to life" I happened to see a national call for artists to exhibit at the Blanche Ames Mansion in North Easton, MA just one day before the submission deadline and I decided to give it a try. Both the above interior and my trompe l'oeil Noteworthy were accepted! This is my second time exhibiting in a National Historic Site and I'm thrilled.

And now I'm getting to know Blanche Ames: artist, inventor and suffragette! (More on Blanche to come, I'm sure.) And if you're in the area of North Easton, MA stop by. The opening reception is September 22nd.

Below is my painting Noteworthy which will also be in the exhibit.

And last but not least, you can see my work at Ruth Keeler Library in North Salem, NY during the month of September. Stop by and see some of my newer small works.

trompe l'oeil painting, papers, vintage glasses, notebook, paper ephemera
Noteworthy ©2017 Dorothy Lorenze, 16 x 20"

I hope your summer has been full of great adventures and, as always, thank you for joining me on my artistic journey!

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