A unique angle

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Dear Artist,

A subscriber wrote, “Some of my painter friends insist that I don’t have a unique angle in my work. I feel all I can do is carry on and paint as much as I can and not worry about it, and eventually it will come. To force it would be easy as I’m a professional designer and illustrator. It would also be shallow and dishonest, do you agree? Do you have some advice on this?”

pablo-picasso_naked-woman-lying-on-a-blue-couch_1960

“Naked Woman Lying on a Blue Couch”
1960 oil painting by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

When I was in my twenties I was painfully aware that my work was a mish-mash. It was without angle, without style. A newspaper critic wrote that it was a “pastiche.” I had to look up the word and I didn’t like what I read. I despaired at ever finding my angle, but continued in my belief that the gods of art would someday grant me one. I, too, didn’t want to be shallow and dishonest.

Then one evening at an early solo show, several collectors managed to blurt out that they loved my style. “It’s so different,” said one. It was only at that moment that I realized I had something I might call my own.

Pablo-Picasso_Portrait-of-a-Young-Girl_1938

“Portrait of a Young Girl”
1938 oil painting by Pablo Picasso

Analyzing my idealistic youth in reflective age, I realize that there’s more than one road to Rome. I now know that just because a style is appropriated — or forced — it doesn’t mean that an artist has to stay put. For many of my friends, the idea was to stand quickly on someone else’s shoulders and then jump off. As a designer and illustrator you are probably proud of the variety of approaches you can take to a project. Why not put this facility to work? What I learned from the Pastiche Guy was that I was being influenced anyway. I was subconsciously appropriating stuff. What he didn’t see was that I was already crossbreeding. These days I’m thinking that appropriation, within limits and not including outright cloning, is okay.

The idea is to have an efficient growth process so you get to the joyous part. Joy includes having something you can call your own. It doesn’t matter a fig what folks say in shows or what critics put into papers. Artists need to live in the present tense. It’s your daily studio function that counts. When someone says they love your style, you’ll find yourself mumbling something like, “It’s a funny thing, but I just do it this way right now.” Then you have your angle.

Pablo-Picasso_Woman-with-a-Crow_1904.

“Woman with a Crow”
1904 oil painting by Pablo Picasso

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “My different styles must not be seen as an evolution, or as steps towards an ideal. Everything I have ever made was made for the present and with the hope that it would always remain in the present.” (Pablo Picasso)

Esoterica: As a regular juror and habitual looky-loo, I notice that lots of competent work shows much that’s unique. While mere competence or proficiency will often attract attention, especially among other artists, it may not be enough. Artists need to have their wits about them and be aware that insights can arise from little errors as well as big bloopers. Insights, original or not, tend to pop up unbidden. Pause. When the faintest glimmer of an insight appears, the wise artist explores in that direction. To evolve, artists need to exploit their glimmers.

This letter was originally published as “A unique angle” on September 22, 2006.

Pablo-Picasso_Les-Demoiselles-d'AvignonIf you find these letters beneficial, please share and encourage your friends to subscribe. The Painter’s Keys is published primarily by a team of volunteers, with a goal to reach as many creative people as possible. Thanks for your friendship. Subscribe here!

“What one does is what counts and not what one had the intention of doing.” (Pablo Picasso)


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20 Comments

  1. Thanks for this! This has been my biggest struggle lately. It’s been making me physically ill. I like doing many different sorts of things and it’s been hard narrowing down where my joy lies (and still making work that sells). I used to love making landscapes but didn’t feel I was setting myself apart enough and now I do all kinds of other things. Perhaps it’s a crisis of confidence? sigh.

  2. The real struggle I feel is the exposure. Like many I have my work and then the work I make my living off of . When I let my real work show I stupidly show it to non artist s . Why is that, they are close to me but their minds are more like the people I sell too , my vision is often unclear in transition so perhaps the journey is the vision

  3. I love that each letter appears on my computer screen in the exact moment in time that it is needed. I must go to Robert’s book of letters and mark this letter ….. Since completing my art certificate I have been ” staying in my room” and painting ….. and finding joy in the moment at experimenting with what I want to paint. I have purposefully avoided opinions from others; I do not concern myself with whether I will ever “show” my work or sell it for that matter. The canvases are piling up … but I bring them out and place them together and see where I am going ….. one glimmer leads to the next …. one colour moment leads to the next and I am inextricably happy in the moment. The rest will surely work itself out …..

    • Thank You Robin. I am in the same place you are right now, enjoying drawing / painting for the sake of it and finding my voice and self-expression. I don’t show my work nor sell them. I have yet to pull all my work together to see where I’m going… thanks for the inspiration. That will be my next project. :-)

  4. OlePathfinder on

    I do strive for merit in my work and am pleased when it pleases others. That said, I am a baby in the art world having been seriously studying/working at it for only three years. However; as I am 74 years old , I do not have a lot of time to waste worrying about art. At the moment, I have three respectably sized pieces going, two acrylics and a pen and ink. I am not stressing over a “style”. It is what it is and, if I feel good about it, that has to be good enough. There has been some comment, that do to vision issues, some of my work has a notable convex look to it. I don’t see it on works in progress but sometimes on finished work it sneaks out somehow. Currently, I am amusing myself with experimental techniques. Materials in tubes and jars do nothing until they are spread out on canvas. I ramble. In summation, I am moderately please if some sense of styles appears. I don’t worry about it. It is what it is. Other big advantage, I ain’t worryin about sellin hit.

    • Like you,I am an elder and love having the time to do my art.My eyes have challenges so some of my work looks very imoressionistic,so be it.Doing my art is a meditation not a vocation,thanks for posting

  5. Mary Manning on

    “Woman with a Crow” by Picasso stunned me. Had to return to reading Robert’s column later. This piece came at the most opportune moment, as I have five paintings underway and no end in sight. So into the studio to see how the day goes, and thank you for recycling these gems!

  6. I don’t like Pablo P. because of his forming (painting) – mostly humiliating – a WOMAN body …. that is my opinion in his paintings I see a lot of HATE & DISDAIN … sorry I’ll write in SLOVEN language : KDOR ZANIČUJE NARAVNI TALENT, KI MU JE BIL PODARJEN, NARAVO IN NJENE LEPOTE – ni umetnik !!!

  7. There is a good story about Edgar Degas. One day a friend was visiting his studio and told him, ‘Jacques (or whoever) is absolutely delighted – at last he’s found his style!’ ‘Well,’ replied Degas ‘I hope I never find mine.’
    The irony is, of course, that Degas’s style is immediately recognisable. I suppose the point he was making was that there are far more important things to be thinking about.

  8. I sometimes wonder who is going to pick up the brush or scissors for collage because my work is so different on different days.I find it to be comforting to do my art and not worried about my angle,it is what it is when I do it and I have to trust that.Whether or not it is acceptable to those viewing it

    • I AM A LONG TIME ARTIST, STARTED AT AGE 13, AND LAST WEEK BECAME 90….SPENT AROUND 30 YEARS ATTENDING A WEEKLY LIFE DRAWING CLASS WITH LIVE MODELS…BUT MY PAINTING IN OILS WERE ALWAYS LAND AND SEA SCAPES, WHICH I FELT LOOKED LIKE EVERYONE PAINTING SUCH SCENES IN CALIFORNIA……THEN I DISCOVERED THE HUMAN FACE, AND FOUND I COULD QUICKLY GET A LIKENESS, AND FINISH MOST OF MY PORTRAITS IN A DAY OR TWO, WHICH I ATTRIBUTED TO MY LIFE DRAWING CLASS, WITH TIME LIMITS….SO FIVE TO TEN YEARS AGO, I’VE BEEN ACCEPTED AS A PORTRAITIST OF PEOPLE AND PETS, AND ENJOY MY ART MORE THAN EVER….I’M DISABLED TOO, SO SITTING AT MY EASEL EVERY DAY IS MY LIFE….AND MY “ANGLE” ACCORDING TO MY VIEWERS ARE EYES AND EYEBROWS (WHICH I START WITH)……GOOFY, HUH?

  9. I’d say that if a critic bothered to write about your work, positive or neg, you’re on your way. It’s when no one notices that’s hard…

  10. I see the artist’s work an extension of self. I also think the movement of one’s hand translates into a style. It is a more complex form of handwriting. Have a look at people’s hand-writing and see whether there is any relation to it in their art. Look for discipline, structure, draftsmanship etc.; you see the writing embodies these principles. Then look at others’ work whose writing is less attractive and more formless. The movement of the artist’s hand is there in both. I think they are interrelated. And with age and practice we also evolve so our subject matter and even styles my change, but some of the basic movements will still be there. Can you agree or tell me why you disagree?

    Ben , Canada

  11. Barbara Spiegel on

    Art has been a journey for me. I didn’t look for a style but I have spent many months paying attention to what I really loved doing and seeing in my work. How I felt..excited, blah, etc. What made me happy. What seemed to express my spirit the best. It has been an interior job. Very powerful. Through this practice I developed my own look.
    Barbara in Palm Springs, CA

  12. I don’t have quite the experience as does friend GEORGE, im only 75 and began when I was twenty (orso). Having said that, I would pass on a quote from our mutual friend, Geotge if you don’t mind…l

    “My whole life has been spent trying to learn how to paint like a child.” Pablo Picasso. (80 at the time).

    David Martin
    Oakland , CA

  13. The greatest error an artist can make is thinking Art is easy; just paint what you like; that attitude guarantees the production of meaningless junk.
    Judging the merits of anything is not a mysterious process; judging is the application of agreed principles; that is, it is the application of laws; it is scientific. Artists get all in a bother about these kinds of claims usually arguing that making Art is not objective or scientific, but we’re not talking about making Art, we’re talking about judging Art and that requires agreed upon consistently applied principles; absent of these objective standards we are not making judgements we are simply expressing our personal opinions but there is a great deal of difference between our individual likes and dislikes and what has merit.
    The primary objective standard in every discipline is the discipline’s history. We may argue over interpretation but without that history a discipline would have no direction.

  14. I love these articles and the forum. I have a roll of canvas that is preprinted with absorbant ground.
    Having had no experience with this, I am looking for input from someone who has success with it and would wish to share their knowlege. Thank you.

  15. Should we think about spirit rather than style. What is the spirit of the painting. Is the spirit of the painter when it is made included in the painting? Do different painting have different spirit? Just a thought.

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