Friday, December 9, 2011

How to Be Original

Aspiring artists often imitate an admired artist’s style. It's a great way to learn to paint and permanently  adds to one’s store of available techniques. 


Rembrandt. Self-portrait. 1666
Paradoxically, in most cases the admired work ultimately came to the admirer’s attention because it resonated with enough people as unique, deep, or original.... So not only the technique but the quality of originality itself can inspire emulation without one even realizing what one's actually responding to. And of course we prize originality in art over imitation. All artists probably have to some degree a desire to express their own unique vision of the world; presumably, over the course of artistic development, emulation ceases to be as powerful a force.


Robert Henri. Figure in Motion. 1913.
It’s like American culture - too often we emulate others who we imagine are enjoying “the good life” by wishing we were (or actually trying to become) as wealthy as we think those other people are. But it's really the wrong goal - that is,  it's a goal that isn’t really suited for what we want to achieve. 


Instead of focusing on becoming as wealthy or secure as we believe “the beautiful people” to be, we should try to focus on our ability to deeply enjoy our present life first. We will then have achieved the desired end without even trying. So with art. 


Would-be artists often begin by emulating the style of a particular artist or group of artists (plein-air painters who emulate aspects of the Rockport or the Impressionist style, say). Later, through the doing, comes one's own unique style. 


Says Robert Henri in the invaluable The Art Spirit: "Don't worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick to you and show you up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do."




Monet. Water lilies. (detail)
I think one does best, in life as well as in art, to focus on one’s own likes and loves, enjoying the pursuit of idiosyncratic experimentation. My own new goal is to live as much as I can in the work I do when I’m in love with what I’m doing for its own sake.

10 comments:

  1. Thoughtful, timely ideas for student painters- thanks!

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  2. Yes, yes. Early in one's career, one should steal, steal, steal! Later, of course, we "quote," "allude" and "pay homage to." At the recent presentation of my poet laureate project--a reader's theatre piece based on interviews with former shoe factory workers--I told the audience straight away that there was not one original word in the entire piece. Yet it was my eye, my sensibility, that, I suppose, recognized the poem--that determined what words were kept and which were deleted. It's a bit like the difference between collage and painting, I guess--different processes, but personal style still emerges to reflect the degree of one's artistic maturity.

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  3. PS--found this article on Arts and Letters Daily yesterday, detailing the years Picasso and max Jacob were living in squalor in Paris.

    http://littlestarjournal.com/blog/2011/12/%E2%80%9Clive-like-a-poet-at-home-in-the-bateau-lavoir%E2%80%9D-by-rosanna-warren/

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  4. I agree. I find that when I try a reproduction of an original masterwork, I increasingly pay less attention to their colors and brush strokes. I feel thrilled to be choosing my own, instead. When done, I find myself thanking that artist for his inspirations! Pat Nickerson

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  5. When I try to paint like someone else, I get so lost and confused. I realize I have no choice but to paint the way I paint.

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  6. ...traigo
    sangre
    de
    la
    tarde
    herida
    en
    la
    mano
    y
    una
    vela
    de
    mi
    corazón
    para
    invitarte
    y
    darte
    este
    alma
    que
    viene
    para
    compartir
    contigo
    tu
    bello
    blog
    con
    un
    ramillete
    de
    oro
    y
    claveles
    dentro...


    desde mis
    HORAS ROTAS
    Y AULA DE PAZ


    COMPARTIENDO ILUSION
    CHRISTOPHER

    CON saludos de la luna al
    reflejarse en el mar de la
    poesía...




    ESPERO SEAN DE VUESTRO AGRADO EL POST POETIZADO DE FLOR DE PASCUA ENEMIGOS PUBLICOS HÁLITO DESAYUNO CON DIAMANTES TIFÓN PULP FICTION, ESTALLIDO MAMMA MIA, TOQUE DE CANELA ,STAR WARS,

    José
    Ramón...

    ReplyDelete
  7. Be present! Here, now...in this second! Enjoy the journey!

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  8. Great comments everyone. I'm still mulling over this question but I think Be Here Now - enjoy the journey - must be among the soundest advice anyone can give or get.

    ReplyDelete