Friday, July 29, 2011

Van who?

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 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 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....


  1. I think we do exactly as you're doing Ben - experiment. That's what the impressionists did and all the other 'ists' I still haven't found "my style" yet. I'm still like a curious kindergartener wondering what will happen if I do this or oooh I like how that is how can I do it too. But in the end I start to paint and it flows even if I have a strong intention on a specific approach. SOmething happens in the process and I respond to what is happening. I don't know if this is good or bad - it just is.

  2. Hiya Ben,
    Ha, I am one of those people that said that when I found your blog. :) Though I meant it as a compliment.
    I do think we are subconsciously influenced by other artists. It is not that we try to copy them or their style (yikes that would uncool,) but one time I was hiking along and had a brilliant idea for a clay project- I followed thru with it... it wasn't until days later I had a thought that I had seen something LIKE it before, then I remembered an artist from an art history class years ago- looked her up & sure enough... the same type of idea. Not the same thing mind you... but a similar idea. That said, I think sometimes it is hard to be truly original... there are bits of influence that shape our thoughts/ideas/styles throughout life, but who would want to " bend the creativity" as you say when what is coming out is who we are. I think perhaps you are right- your style is your style & likely your paintings would have that style if there never were a Van G!

  3. Don't worry Becky, I'm not having a go at anyone, I'm very flattered that people compare my style to Van Gogh, who wouldn't be? :-)

    Maybe ideas in art are like ideas in music, or stories. There are only so many good ones out there so it's difficult to do something that appears totally original and is still good. A lot of conceptual art for instance is very original but is it any good?....mind you what is 'good' as a concept? Maybe originality is what art needs to have to be respected, anything long as it's original.

  4. It is hard, in this day and age, not to take on influences from all around us. I think if a way of working, a palette, a subject appeals to us, that that is the way we will continue to work and strengthen and that will become our style. Whether it happens to be similar to a previous artist known or unknown will purely be because you share similar tastes. Your own personality will still shine through (and does)!

  5. Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.
    - Salvador Dali

    (saw this quote at ArtStarts and loved it)

  6. Ben, thanks for following my blog. Your post is just what I needed to get me out of a slump - I was thinking of trying a new "style" of pastel painting instead of just letting it happen.