How do you decide what you want to create? Do you just sit down in front of your easel and let it happen? Do you make meticulous sketches and studies planning every detail out in advance? What are you trying to communicate? Is it deep and profound? Or is it whimsical and intended to be decoration? How do artists make these decisions?
How do I find my artistic voice?
I've been trying to answer that question for the past four years. In some ways, I have always been trying to answer that question.
Creating art with my grandma Sue was one of my earliest and fondest memories. She wasn't an artist; she was just babysitting me for my mom and trying to pass the time. I believe I was only 3 or 4 years old. But watching her create little drawings and teach me how to create overlapping circles with a cup and then color them in seemed magical!
As a child of the 1980's, I grew up with a lot of great pop art. I had Disney movies and tons of Saturday morning cartoons to sift through. I had great movies and several video stores. I had some of the greatest toys that manufacturers keep evolving to this day; toys like He-Man, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Silverhawks, and so much more! In 1985, I got my first Nintendo! And with it, a bunch of Nintendo Power magazines filled with video game art! I watched Bob Ross and Commander Mark Kistler teach us how to paint and how to draw. In fact, I'm friends with Mark Kistler on Facebook today! I had Marvel and DC comics, games, clothes, costumes, toys, and even underwear!
When I got into high school, my teacher started exposing us to art history and took us to the Seattle Art Museum. She had us sketch all around Seattle on multiple field trips learning to get better at "seeing". She taught us how to use those sketches to inspire new work. In community college, my professor took my observation and drawing skills to the next level constantly yelling, "Draw what you see!"
Later in animation school, we studied the history of all the things I watched as a kid. We learned how to put a 2D or 3D animated film together from start to finish. While we weren't experts by graduation, we knew everything we needed to know to get started.
When I was encouraged by my friend in 2018 to start painting, I wasn't sure what I wanted to paint. I started looking at work in my art history textbooks and doing Google searches. I wanted to figure out what I responded to. For me, I landed on Monet and Impressionism. For the past four years, I've been discovering how I like to approach this kind of work. I've been asking more questions. I've been looking at the big names in the contemporary art world and wondering if I should be pushing myself out of my current comfort zone. I've been trying to figure out how the art world works. And while only painting part time, I feel like I'm just scratching the surface.
Today at the age of 43, I realize that there will only be so many more paintings ahead of me. What do I want to do with them? Do I keep doing what I'm doing now? Do I make something that combines all my different skills into one new thing? Do I try to say something profound through my work? Am I already saying something important? Do I have to say anything at all? Am I making the art Adam wants to make or am I trying to please the crowds?
Do you ask yourself questions like these, or is it just me?
So far, I think I have come up with a satisfactory answer to the question: "How do you find your artistic voice?"
The answer? Create what you want to create.
It seems so obvious and simple, but the truth is that we are all unique individuals with our own stories and experiences. We do not all see the world the same way. We do not all share the exact same passions and perspectives. I am the only "me" there is. And so are you. Whatever YOU make that comes from inside YOUR heart and mind is probably the right thing.
I didn't like that answer at first. I think I was looking for a 5-step recipe or something. I've seen a few people answer this question that way, and I think it can be helpful. However, I realize that I think any strategy you deploy needs to be something that fits your goals. And that leads me back to the simple answer of creating what you want to create.
So I think that leads to a slightly different question. What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish while you're here? Is enough for you to join a co-op of artists and sell the occasional painting to the locals? Do you even care about selling your art? Or do you want to be remembered as a powerful influencer in the art world and end up in future editions of college textbooks?
I think that if you can be honest with yourself about what your goals are, you'll have an easier time deciding what you need to create to accomplish them. And the process of making those things the way you like to make them will help you find your artistic voice.
What was Monet's goal? He wanted to capture fleeting effects of light and atmosphere.
What was Picasso's goal? He wanted to develop a new way of seeing that reflected the modern age.
What was Disney's goal? He wanted to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe.
What was Bob Ross's goal? He wanted to share the joy of painting with others.
What was Van Gogh's goal? He wanted to express his individualism and emotions in the everyday items that inspired him.
What was Pollock's goal? He wanted to create art that was a visual representation of the motion and energy of his "inside world."
What was Kahlo's goal? She wanted to expose her physical injuries and emotional suffering so that we may understand her life and challenges.
What was O'Keefe's goal? She wanted to to produce works that emphasized the primary forms of nature.
What was Dali's goal? He wanted to revolutionize the art of the twentieth century.
What was Hopper's goal? He wanted to convey the 'truth' of everyday life.
What am I getting at here? I think you see it. If you know anything about the lives of these human beings, the work they created seemed to make sense for them.
Think about it. What if we switched one of these names with someone else's goal?
Imagine the kind of work Dali would have made if he had Monet's goal. It would be different, wouldn't it? I think that finding your voice has to start with clarifying your goal.
What do YOU want to do? The rest is simply "how".
What is my artistic voice at this point? All I know so far is that I want to "inspire life" through my work to help ease the suffering found in the human condition. I want my art to be life-giving. And the best way I know how to do that at the moment is to point you to the One True Giver of Life and impressions of His Creation.
I hope that helps you in your journey!