questions about style

A few weeks ago, I picked up a pen, grabbed some ink, and started drawing a slew of forest animal and a strange-looking human. As I began drawing, my initial reaction was to stop what I was doing immediately (there’s a post forthcoming about this). As this isn’t an unfamiliar feeling, I ignored it. I’ve learned not to listen to the first critical voice that speaks when I begin making art (although, I sometimes fall prey to the second or third). I kept drawing in very unfamiliar territory. What happens when I do that? I couldn’t tell you. It’s different every time.

I’m a person who enjoys habits, patterns and cycles, as long as I feel that they are nourishing. I have specific ways of approaching art making when I’m working in styles that I’m familiar with. There’s actually an acute joy in the rituals that precede a lot of the paintings and drawings I make. I take great pleasure in the set-up, the diving in, and the satisfaction of creating something that turned out at least somewhat close to what I imagined it would. 

But when I step out of that quasi-formulaic approach, I find myself with nothing to stand on, uncertain, curious, questioning, vulnerable. There’s certainly a voice in my head that says, “you can’t do art this way, it’s not what the rest of your art looks like.” Why do I feel that way? I feel pressured to provide consistency to the wonderful folks who support my artwork. I feel pressure (undoubtedly from myself) to stay on message in order to continue engaging with my audience. 

  where am I going with   this...

where am I going with this...

In this methodology, I feel that my work will die. I can’t keep creating the same thing. I can’t reach for the same tools. I can’t focus on the same themes. My work has been able to grow to where it is now because I’ve jumped style lanes multiple times, making autobiographical work, community-driven work, work about sexuality and self-intimacy, whimsical work, etc.  

It’s not that I think I should allow myself to work in multiple styles, it’s that I am realizing I must. The pressure I feel to keep my audience by feeding them the same food that brought them to me in the first place is a fear-based thought that, in it’s intention to keep me safe, will in fact squash my creativity. To work with this thought, I’m going to first hear it, allow it in, and then show it how I am able to thrive as an artist while cultivating my abundantly curious self. Don’t stick to the script.

grace engel