You know that moment: Your gallery or publisher asks for 'Some more like the last...That really sells!'
Artists struggle more than you might think to attain this idealised state of unvarying continuity. It can temper our tendency to experiment; repress our natural curiosity; maybe even set us up for creative block.
And, worse, we may never make the work that could put us on the path to greatness.
The ‘art establishment' and publishing industries have traditionally encouraged a climate of predictable outcomes. How galleries and critics love it when our art is consistent in style, genre, technique and even size; how convenient for them, and how difficult for us if we happen to be in a period of exploration, rather than one of consolidation.
Galleries, publishers and the like, know that when your work is tied together with a common thread such as:
Unfortunately artists are not brands. We're sentient beings. And often rather rebellious ones at that.
Paul Klee's eclectic style
If this sounds like you, be reassured by the trajectory of one of my favourite masters, Paul Klee.
Klee was a Swiss-born painter, printmaker and draughtsman of German nationality. He was associated with the German Expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter, and later taught at the Bauhaus - the influential German art school that thrived between the first and second world wars.
Klee's body of work is extremely diverse and impossible to categorise according to a single artistic movement, or "school."
Not only did Klee explore multiple styles and media, he did so within the same time period! Not for nothing did he title one of his paintings 'Bird Wandering Off'.
At times childlike or fantastic, his paintings look as fresh today as they did when he painted them.
(Explore more of Paul Klee's work at David Zwirner's gallery site.)
Artists need to grow
So, while I accept that to sell our work in this competitive world, we need a consistent style, I also think it's important that we don't banish our urges towards experimentation completely.
It's healthy to occasionally let our impulses fly. To go where our instincts propel us.
In these moments we glimpse our unique creative voice; our potential to rise above competence. Or acclaim. To reach that ethereal, intangible place: Greatness.
How consistent is your style?
When did you last go with a whim and pursue a completely uncharacteristic direction in your work? What was the result?
Share in the comments!