A few todays after the new year has arrived, and the dust of Instagram memories and happy-new-year wishes has settled, one finally starts to reflect on what truly made last year special for them. Because, after the celebrations, we all return to our daily lives. And it is that part of the past year, the part which still impacts our routines in the new year, that we should treasure.
For me, this force has been, and still is, photography. Roughly a year ago, I held a camera for the first time in a spirit other than obligatory point-and-shooting friends and family; I held it in artistic excitement. Fast-forward a year, I have obviously learnt a lot, as anyone would, when they discover a new interest. But there is one matter, when one dwells on not just photography, but the Arts altogether, that often gets people stuck, and which no amount of studying or practice guarantees — though those do help considerably; that is:
The question of adopting a personal artistic style.
I am aware that I should touch upon this topic lightly, for with a mere year of experience, I cannot speak of a topic that has taken multiples of that for many artists to sculpt, adjust and establish as their own style. Nonetheless, I hope to share my experience of experimenting and browsing the sea of visual content available, in search for a style — which I have not yet found.
The Journey is Important
As obvious as it may seem, no artist should ever seek to establish a style for the sake of establishing it. The artist’s style, their character, their signature, their language, is a symbol of their endeavour, and a trophy of all the artistic battles they have won and lost. It is their expression of ideas, and it represents them better than any other animate or inanimate object ever could.
All those elements are aspects that an evolving artist picks up on their way to developing a style. In fact, one may baptise this journey towards a “style” as they wish; finding a style; growing artistically; becoming a professional; getting more likes on Instagram — you name it. The label of your goal is irrelevant, as long as you remind yourself that it is only that, a label, and not the core of your efforts.
Every complete artist has a Journey to share, and every complete artist should have a style that, however it may transform over time, it always reflects that very Journey thoroughly and clearly.
When you gaze at a fine painting or photograph that makes you feel “something”, part of this “something” is the artist’s style opening up to you, as it speaks volumes to you about the artist’s Journey. And all that, aside from the idea that the artist’s particular work wants to get across.
To put it plainly, a style is the prospectus of the artist’s soul.
The Searching Process
I need to stress again that, an artistic style is not as easily picked as an VSCO filter, so don’t take this subtitle for face value. Consider this the browsing process, the very natural course of looking at other artists’ content, and, without hesitations or second thoughts, instinctively thinking to yourself “I like this, I don’t like that”.
This is a vital part of an artist’s Journey not just because they get to see what they like, but also to discover what new works they like, as their tastes change, the more they browse and learn of other works, movements and ideas.
On the topic of changing tasted, for me personally, I have observed that, often, it’s not as hard to create something according to your tastes, as it is to keep up with them — especially If you are new to the club.
For a final note on the browsing process, I have found that the “I don’t like”s actually direct you better towards your style than the “I like”s. As unorthodox as that may sound, you may be surprised by how directly the “don’t”s can navigate you towards the “do”s. Besides the practical evidence that has worked for me in favour of the “don’t”s, there is also the simpler, logical explanation of the human nature:
For every 1 thing a human does right, they have done 10 things wrong.
With that analogy in mind, think if how many more “don’t”s there are to find and not follow out there. And since the “don’t”s help cultivate your style as much as the “do”s (if not more), they seem like the superior choice to me.
Understand the Magnitude of your Journey
Risking to sound like a broken record, I feel I have to repeat that adopting a personal style is not an easy thing for an artist to do. I, personally, see it as an unreachable feat at my stage.
Of course, each person’s experience may vary, but I believe that this is a procedure that takes immense amounts of time to complete. I would very much agree if anyone said that it is as natural and as time-consuming of a procedure as planting a tree and expecting it to grow 10 feet tall.
Photography & My Journey Thus Far
I am sincerely the last person that would present any sort of progress to the public like some child who managed to build a tower of 3 Legos, expecting the entire family to cheer and applaud them for their astonishing achievement.
But, even if all the above concepts were generalised for all of the Arts, I feel the need to briefly dive into my own artistic territory of photography.
The picture in the beginning of the text is, at the time of writing, my most recent photograph, a self-portrait I took in my home studio, as I was testing some speedlights.
Though I like this picture, If you were to ask me whether this picture represents me as an artist at my current stage, I would wholeheartedly answer no; as I would for any picture I have ever taken. This does not sound like a healthy thing, but I believe every new work I create has a purpose to make me climb yet another step up, and I appreciate it for that. In that particular shot, what I explored, learnt and kept, was how much a adored the natural-looking backlighting in these shots (the background light’s position and resulting shadows seemed very natural to me, almost making me forget that both the main and the background lights were mere flashes, with no colour correction filters on them, one bare, one umbrella-diffused).
Creating something that I can show off as my “prospectus”, a visual work that immortalises and represents all of my ideas, knowledge, and tastes around photography, is a privilege that I am yet to attain — and which perhaps I never will, for there will always be something new to learn; a new person to shoot, a new light to play with, a new angle with fascinating new shadows to capture.
What to Keep
Every artist should have a style. Just because we don’t have it yet, doesn’t make us any less of an artist that the established ones. Our style will come as our art matures, and our tastes evolve. Only after constant reconsideration and change will those few, fundamental ideas remain stable throughout time, and it is upon those conceptual stones, that we should build the foundations of our style, our artistic identity, our prospectus; only through hard work, and patience, and in no more of a hurry than a freshly planted seed waiting to outgrow those who planted it in good time.