Do Artists see others as rivals or fellow travellers along the path ?

I recently  received a really interesting question from one of my sketchbook drawing workshop participants.  He had seen another artist whom he thought had a similar ‘style’ to me. He asked: ‘Do professional artists see others (with similar ‘styles’) as  rivals or fellow travellers’.

artists as fellow travellers Liz ackerley art  contemporary artist

This is such a great question and one that I will start to unpick.  Over the last couple of years, I have been developing my mixed media painting through a lot of my own exploration. I have also taken part in a number of excellent online and face-to-face workshops and courses.  I have written about some of these in previous blogs.  Through these explorations and courses I have began to develop my own voice in painting.  I am at the start of what I trust will be a fulfilling and exciting journey.  My art started through my drawing and illustration work.  My painting, although somewhat different, has important connections to my drawing.   

First, let me comment about style.  I don’t find it helpful to talk about style in my own work, and particularly, my paintings.  That’s because I really don’t want to be constrained to a particular set of elements and techniques. This feels too restricting and artificial.   Moreover, I don’t want to spend time trying to identify a style, because to me, that isn’t the point. 

My approach is to explore what I want to say and how I want to say it; what do I enjoy doing in painting?  How do I convey what I want to say about the subject matter? My experiences-using brushes, collage papers, text, colours, mark making, etc.  It all goes into the mix.  I am trying to present my feelings and experiences of places, what I notice, what i want to communicate about them.  Therefore, it is  less of a literal representation of a single scene.  But  I don’t want that boxed into a set of specific rules.  

Often times I hear people talk about finding their style and how they need to find it.  Do they?  Why not let it evolve naturally, in time?  in this quest, I think they are probably talking about identifying the distinctive visual elements, techniques and approaches that typify their work. Do they feel that if they don’t do that, then their work is less legitimate? Or is it related to concerns related to the selling of their work?  Perhaps it is because all too often, there is a need to ‘fit’ and be defined.

The other Wikipedia definition of style is: the movement or school that an artist is associated with. This definition has fallen out of favour although it continues to be used: for example abstract painting, abstract expressionism, realism, photorealism etc.  Again, they are generalisations. If I was to choose which reflects the painting approach I am taking, it would likely be semi-abstract or abstract, but it’s just a label and often, as with most things, its not quite as simple as that!  

Now, what about the main part of the question:  Do artists see others with similar styles as rivals or fellow travellers?  I can of course only speak for me when I respond.  As with so many things, it is all about mindset.  There are so many artists, some more different to others, some with apparently similar ‘styles’.  But I totally believe that all of us, assuming we are searching for and trying to present our own unique voice, are different.  Even if we focus on a similar subject matter, what we want to say and how we want to say it is going to be different.

Not one of us could produce are own authentic art that is completely like another.  Of course, I couldn’t paint like Miro, but equally, he couldn’t have painted like me!!  You could set out to copy the approach of another and whilst that might be useful exploration and understanding of the things you like to do and what you don’t like, it wouldn’t help you to find your unique voice on its own.

That said, I think it is human nature to compare ourselves to others.  Of course it really serves no useful purpose in our art, unless it really is to inspire us.  It can all too easily result in ‘compare and despair’ which is demotivating and unhelpful.  However, society, the world around us is set up in this way, so it isn’t always easy.  Often times we are frustrated with ourselves.   Comparing ourselves to others further along, with a different intention for their work, serves no useful purpose.  Therefore, it is much more productive and positive to see others as fellow travellers.  We are all on a similar general path, but we are at different stages of our journey.  

Art making can be a lonely business so it is imperative that we reach out to others that are part of our community.  If we see them all as competitors, it is much harder to do that.  If we see them as fellow travellers we can support each other, getting inspiration and guidance from those ahead and reaching out to assist those coming behind us.  We can share and resolve issues together and give opportunity for different perspectives and growth.  We can understand ourselves and what we want to say better if we have that honest dialogue with others.   

I found this quote recently and thought it summed up this idea of us having our own unique Voice:

Every artist dips his brush into his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures’

Henry Ward Beecher

I guess it’s our job as artists, to try to allow that to happen and get out of our own way to do that! 

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2 thoughts on “Do Artists see others as rivals or fellow travellers along the path ?

  1. The “style” question is one I have thought about a lot. I think fresh artists with less experience are more likely to feel a need to “find” their style. After sketching for 9 years, I have come to believe that we don’t get to choose our style; our style chooses us. Our job is to make lots and lots of sketches so that our style will be able to find us easily. 😉

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