Monday, October 19, 2009

More on Signature Style

Last week I shared a quotation airing the view that "A signature style is about consumerism, not art." (see this post). I withheld my thoughts on this, curious about how others might see it. I got three comments which pretty much agreed, provided "signature style" is synonymous with "sale-able style." . And then Wanda shared a link with me. As so often happens, another blogger, Elizabeth Barton, was musing the same issue in this post, albeit from the angle of risk taking (or not). It's short, so go take a read, then come back.

When I first came across the quotation accusing signature style of essentially making life easier for the consumers, I thought she had a good point. I went through a period of worry that I had not developed a signature style yet, because I equated it with earning the title of "artist" and thus the potential of sales. Then I worried about being pigeon-holed because my interests take me back and forth over the line between organic and geometric designs. What if I become known for my sinuous tree trunk designs to the point that followers will be dismissive when my work shifts to my other obsession of grids? I finally settled back to the reality of first I must please myself; if others are unsettled by fresh directions, there will be, perhaps, just as many excited by it. I'm not having to make a living off my art, so I am comfortable with that. Yet it does make it difficult to put together a cohesive "body of work" for exhibits. Doesn't matter much if you are in a group exhibition, but yes, for a solo show or to market, it's much easier to think in terms of work whose signature may make it all look alike in some way. Not the way many of us like to work.

However, I think Terry makes a good point that the author may not understand the concept of signature style, confusing it with saleable style. Following the links to the author's full objection, and to the statements on her website, it became clear to me that perhaps she was protesting too much. If she were truly confident in what she was doing, I think she would spend less time trying to bolster her position. It reminded me of my summary page to a gradeschool report on folklore. The assignment was to interview adults in the community for stories of a local flavor, things that might fall under the categories of old wives' tales or ghost stories or legends. Well, I was very uncomfortable asking adults for their stories, so my collection covered common stories I already knew fleshed out with ones I could pry out of mom & dad. That summary page was nothing more than justification for not having interviewed more people, and the teacher called me out on it. I had the same sense from this artist, that deep down she knew her art might be better if she were not pulled so many directions, but it was easier to rationalize it away with this argument of signature style basically being a bad thing inflicted upon artists by the consumer industry.

At this point, I'm going to send you to the website of Melissa Cole, who has definitely developed a signature style which is also a saleable style. I love her work, but I am a bit unsettled by how commercial her website comes across and how within a category, her work is so similar. There's an efficiency there that verges on production, and while no two paintings are exactly the same, some are so close that it takes a second look to define the difference. Seeing one of her salmon paintings in person made we want to own her work. After viewing her website, I lost the urge after the 4th time I thought I'd spotted the painting I'd seen only to discover it was just a variation. I feel funny making these observations, because she obviously is talented and successful. And yet...

Signature style develops from doing the work, from focus, from seizing on an idea and running with it until all options are exhausted or we tire of the exercise. It might serve us our entire creative lives, but more likely, we will find forks in the road of our creative journeys that will lead us into new territories and new signatures. Now there's something to be excited about. Whether or not we choose to create for a specific market as well is a personal choice.

Any more opinions?


Connie Rose said...

Thanks for that post, Sheila. I'm thinking our unique signature developes in our just following our own muse. In the end, the entire body of work is "of a piece" because it is our own personal gestalt.

Once I get into a groove, so to speak, I lose it. I can do a few things in a certain vein, and then it all shifts. So I agree with those you quoted who think they can't hold a focus. But I feel much more comfortable with this than I do when I see others' work, many who are quite well known and have lots of sales, who's work is unbelievably redundant.

I don't want to become like that -- even though I sell my work and really need to sell more of it. For me it's about artistic integrity.

I've always felt that the market that buys seemingly mass produced art is not the market I want to buy my art. They won't anyway, because what I do is different. Yeah, mine hasn't sold well (yet), but at least I have my artistic integrity intact and I'm growing and developing as an artist.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Thank you (belatedly) for your thoughtful comment. I so agree with so much of it. I have my own list of artists who fall into the category of "quite well known...who's work is unbelievably redundant." I think being redundant is supposed to be the kiss of death for an artist, but apparently not if you are creating for a market.

And yes, it may sound counterproductive if you crave sales, but I too care who buys my work and why. Buy it because it's different, because it strikes a chord with you, even because you know it will look good over the couch in the living room. But please don't buy it because it's the latest fad or you just have to have something by that artist because she is hot right now. (Not remotely implying I'm hot yet!)

Mmm - integrity may land us in the bread line!