Style vs. Formula

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Style vs. Formula

From Michael Dumas

Published before 2005


Jeffery made a very insightful remark regarding style vs. formula. I think formula precedes style as one attempts to develop basic skills. When some particular approach works it seems obvious to include it the next time around, and of course to then build upon it. I recall my own struggle to make things look 'right' and how certain procedures that worked became the foundation for the next piece, and so on. There comes a time (hopefully) when the ability to make things look 'right' becomes 'automatic', where the intent and outcome seem to flow unimpeded by any need to 'think through' the various stages. Even then, of course, one may still be applying a formula, just not in a conscious manner.

If one is fortunate to have in their personality something of depth, a time will come when this process will 'bore you to tears'. At first it may seem uncomfortable, perhaps even tragic, that the very thing you hoped to achieve has now become rather 'empty' once attained. Ignore this at your peril! What's taking place here is an assertion of your true self, it's asking a hard question and demands an answer. It is no longer about 'how' but 'why'... and there is no other living soul on the planet with the answer, except you.

It is not an easy thing, there are no guides to refer to, you are on your own and very much alone with yourself. In my own case, after some considerable time in 'limbo' I finally gave myself completely over to my 'self', painting in pursuit of discovering or revealing personal truths. The 'why' I was painting dominated the process to such a degree that the surface appearance of the work underwent a great change almost immediately, a far greater change than anything I was able to accomplish by a conscious determination to develop a 'style'. 'Style' is about you, your reasons for painting, what you value, how you think, etc., it is much more than, and decidedly other than, just how you apply the paint.

Jeffery, I am not familiar with Tom Uttech's work, but would be very interested in seeing some of it. Can you suggest a source? Perhaps a web-site?

Here I am, long-winded... again. But... one last bit in reply to Timothy's comment about sales considerations affecting the type of work an artist does (the example used was Richard Schmidt). There is a definite correlation between subject matter (and I mean this in the usual sense of objects depicted) and salability. Frankly, many buyers will actually prefer a poorly painted subject that they are familiar with (and like) over a masterful painting of something they don't know or relate to well. Having said that, there is certainly room to sell subject matter quite outside of what is widely accepted, and much of this depends on the artist or his/her representative to present the work and speak in terms of the 'art' rather than simply about the subject. It can be a slow process, but most people seem interested in gaining insights into the work beyond the subject matter, (or things about the subject matter that are not obvious at first glance) and often this new perspective is the very thing that gets them excited about a piece... sometimes enough to make the step of purchasing. I have been pleasantly surprised by the reception to paintings depicting subjects that are well outside of what the 'popular market' would seem to predict. My philosophy now is to simply paint for myself, and when it comes to the selling part I simply adopt the attitude of 'how does one know if they will or won't be interested if they never get to see it'?

This idea of artistic independence, especially in the situation of depending on the sale of one's art as a means of living, can be very intimidating... but for some people, sometimes, there is simply no other choice.

One last note... honest... Timothy, I agree with your evaluation regarding the rarity (percentage wise at least) and difficulty of artist's making their living from their art on a full time basis. This is especially so when one is starting out, and one simply has to do what one has to do to get by. I paid my way through art school by working in the bush (as a forest ranger in Algonquin Park) from early May through to nearly the end of September, living in a tent, travelling by foot or canoe with one other ranger, and most of the time not encountering another human soul. After my 'apprenticeship' I instructed at a fitness centre, took a job at a design house setting up type for labels, free-lanced some rather uninspiring projects, worked as an illustrator in a publishing company while at the same time (7:00 to midnight every night) worked on my own paintings at home, etc... None of this is particularly exceptional, it's just dealing with life while pursuing the thing worth living for. If I have any advice for people 'starting out' in life it would be to pursue your goals with everything you are capable of, be 'brave', you will find you have far more in you than you might think. OK, so that's it. Really.

- Michael -