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To STYLE or NOT to Style, That Is the Question

June 26, 2021 1:13 PM | Dan Nelson

We've all heard this bit of advice:

"You've got to develop a style!" Or-- "Develop a style and stick with it."

Good advice, or bad?

That depends entirely on context.

If you are an "emerging artist" and you're hoping to actually sell your artwork (to more than just your friends), this advice is RIGHT ON.

People ask me often "How much should I charge for this painting?" and my standard answer is "It's impossible to say. You have to develop a style and create A BODY OF WORK in that style. Once you have 15 or 30 or even 60 pieces of work IN THAT STYLE, then -- and only then-- can we start talking about price.".

That's just the way it is. Art buyers have to feel like they are buying something that an artist has actually WORKED ON, not just an accident that happened in the floor of their garage. (As you can hear from my tone, this is more and more critical the more and more abstract YOUR style may be!)

BUT . . . (and it's a really BIG BUT!) . . . that "develop a style" advice is completely worthless in a few other contexts:

1) IF YOU ARE A STUDENT (of any age) and you just want to LEARN ALL YOU CAN about art, or painting, or how to manipulate the physical cosmos.

Developing a "style" in this season of your art journey simply short-circuits your progress. Don't narrow down, widen up! Try EVERYTHING, then try a little more!

Even when I was an art major in college I felt that developing a "style" was a sophomoric impulse. (Of course, that's because I was a Junior.) (That was a joke.) (Sorry I have to tell you when my jokes are a joke.) (Sorry I have so many parenthetical statements in a row.) (I just do this to drive English Majors crazy.) (They are sophomoric, too.)

I still think college art students-- unless they're true prodigies-- have no business concerning themselves with "style".

2) IF YOU ARE A MATURE or WELL-ESTABLISHED ARTIST, you WON'T necessarily torpedo your career by playing around.

For the last 17 years, I have had a clearly-identified style of painting. So if I want to play around with other styles of painting, I am free to do so. I just have to understand that my "playing around" paintings might be a little harder to sell. And that is exactly my experience. Do I then regret "playing around"? Not in the least! I learn things from it, plus, it's just plain fun -- and that helps keep all my art work fresh.

So they're ya go-- dish out the conventional advice, "Develop a STYLE!" . . . Just be careful who you're dishing it to.

In the meantime...

Go develop a style. (-:

Dan


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