There are 2 ways of looking at style : style as defined by the parameters of our expression - in regards to what is “out there” - for example : Impressionism, Realism, Abstract Expressionism, etc. These are collective styles, representational idioms which are sometimes (erroneously) called “genres”. Then there is having a “personal style” which for all intents and purposes identifies us as having our own recognizable graphic way of saying something visually; as we so often do in a written form through a personal handwriting. Ironically, personal hand-writing styles are disappearing. Many in younger generations have no idea how to hold a pencil or pen let alone how to use them. Because of keyboards that men would never have admitted to using not so long ago (that was for "secretaries!". . . ) whole generations are no longer identifiable through a hand-writing style.And as we crave perfection rather than excellence in our drawing and painting styles, we will soon, logically speaking, no longer have a drawing or painting style. . .
Collective styles we can choose to embrace. The latter, the personal style, emerges from within. And, this emergence occurs once we have not only acquired but assimilated the skill sets required to speak a specific language. And once these skills are assimilated, we begin to apply them without even thinking. This, in turn, allows us a freedom of expression unknown to us prior to these tools having become a part of us. And when this happens, we suddenly, again without realizing it, begin drawing, painting or sculpting in such a personal way that viewers come to recognize the "who" of a visual statement above and beyond the "what" of the visual statement itself. This is how we differentiate the works of Michelangelo from those of Picasso, Caravaggio, Rockwell, Parrish, et al.
In his own inimitable style (no pun intended), Dali said it best : He explained that it was a waste of time to chase after or crave a personal style since that style will happen despite all efforts to hunt it down. In essence, personal style happens when we stop trying to be unique and simply let the naturalness of our strokes and expressions be themselves.
But once we have this "our" style (or as some esoterics refer to it : a “voice”) does this guarantee we become an overnight sensation? Sadly (and realistically). . . no. Sales do not suddenly multiply when our style makes itself known. As in all selling games, the marketplace determines whether it will accept or reject how we say things - not us. We can present our style and the styles we use it in, but we can’t impose it, anymore than we can impose a style upon ourselves. If we try, we will be denying who we are. If we obsess with a goal of creating our own style, we will end up being as J F Martel indicates in his seminal book : “Reclaiming Art In The Age of Artifice” : creators of pastiche - superficial artworks that never become “art”.
Are we stuck with a personal style? No. We can deny it, throw it away, try to become something we are not. But that isn’t going to get us a legitimate place in the world of the arts. Can we change the styles in which we work? Absolutely. We can paint in whatever style (or “ism”) we want without denigrating or rejecting our personal style. Picasso, for example, always remained Picasso no matter what he did or how. He played in stone, ceramics, paint, drawing and more - and yet we always recognize his work. His personal style; his hand-writing, never wavered. What did change was the representational styles in which he worked. Much like when he spoke French or Spanish, the language spoken changed but the man speaking was always recognizably Picasso. He never pretended to be anyone else or to say anything in any other way than his own. That's what made him Picasso and style is what makes us "us" - in whatever language we speak.
Bernard Poulin. . . I paint, I draw, I write