On showing people my work I often get the response "very Van Gogh" or "you can see the Van Gogh influence", I find this is interesting because I have never attempted to paint in a particular style or studied the work of other artists with a view to finding my 'voice'. To be fair if I look at my work objectively it is in a similar style to the way Van Gogh used to paint but as far as I can tell this is a coincidence.
So what is it that defines the way we paint? the most straightforward possibility is that we do consciously mould our painting style into something we admire and wish to emulate, that we choose the direction our art develops. In my first few months of painting I believed this to be true...now I know, in my case at least, that it is bollocks, I aspired to photorealistic landscape and architecture painting and I've ended up going in a totally different direction. I now believe that if we are honest with ourselves we have no choice at all when it comes to the style we paint in, one can force ourselves to a certain discipline but for as long as one does that the results will never reflect ones own voice.
Another possibility is that we are subconsciously influenced by the work of other artists, something fundamental appeals about their work or the artist themselves and we unconsciously emulate their style. Of course there's no way of knowing if this is the case, although I've never made a particular study of the post-impressionists I can't say I'm unfamiliar with their work or the ideas behind it so there is the possibility that such an influence is there.
So what do we do about this? do we strive to bend our creativity into something that, as far as we know, is entirely original, sternly denying any impulse to do something in a way that has been 'done' before? I don't believe this is healthy, ones artistic voice is what it is, if it's similar to the way one of the great artists painted...so what? at least it's honest, it's not like we're copying the work is it?
I won't deny that my work does look like it's painted in the style of Van Gogh but I would argue that this is merely a coincidence, it's just that we happen to paint the same way. I would like to think that if I had demonstrably never heard of or seen any of the work of ol' mad Vincent I would still paint exactly as I do, of course there is no way of knowing....