Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What is Style and how do you develop it?

I have a pair of old worn out slippers that I wear when the weather turns cold. They are ugly as sin, but they keep my feet warm and shield my ankles from drafts. I could throw them away and get another pair; but, hey, it doesn’t get that cold in Florida.

Like old ruts, my slippers are so comfortable it’s easy to forget how unsightly they’ve become. Like routines that become habits, old ruts are familiar and predictable. We sink into them easily without even noticing.
(Work in Progress) -- "Kindred Spirits"
Some people paint this way. I reviewed the portfolio of a young artist who was trying to develop a unique abstract style. Each painting looked much the same as the last. All of them used variations of red, green and blue on white. By the time I’d perused his portfolio, I was b-o-r-e-d! His theme became monotonous. 

Even the swipe of each brush stroke was similar in width and length, and no unusual center of interest emerged. The colors were all the same intensity; shouting for attention with no place for my eyes to rest.

We all fall into this trap at some time or another. We think style has something to do with similarity and recognition when style really gives us a larger picture of an artist’s capabilities and skill.

When you study the works of renowned artists, it is clear there are similarities in the way the brushwork is applied and in the colors used, but there is a greater principle at work. Style comprises the artist’s “world view” and how he connects to his or her audience. If a painting does not communicate, it remains stagnant and unremembered. Here are a few of my favorite artists and their unique styles:

Thomas Hart Benton
Benton was a “regionalist,” a painter who recorded the people and the places that he lived in and loved. I lived in Kansas City, Mo. when I first became acquainted with his work. His murals were in the capitol building and other public places. He painted the rural farmers, the railroad men, and the people in the city. His love was evident in the unique and swirling landscapes and in the curves and forms of the men and women who built the city from the ground up. The variety and the places he painted were so varied in content that even though his unique style is evident, each painting tells a distinct and original story.

Edouard Manet
Manet enjoyed surprising his audience. He preferred a loose and sketchy style, without fussy detail unless he chose to emphasize a certain area of the painting. He often used nudity to expose the foibles in the human condition.

Winslow Homer
Homer dappled in many mediums. He enjoyed watercolor as much as oil
He became skilled at both. You can almost see the growth in his style and skill with each painting. 

When he moved to Maine he began painting the sea in its wildest and most unpredictable forms. He became a master of the elements. The people he included in his paintings were often seafaring men and women, robust and hardworking.