Sunday, December 5, 2010

Variety is the Spice of Art

How often do we change our art, style or process? Is it better for artists to cultivate variety or consistency? Galleries tend to encourage artists to keep creating the same thing (that sells) over and over again. While artists, in general, like variety to stay motivated and inspired.

There are two schools of thought here. The first is consistency. Consistency in our work allows us to keep experimenting on one theme and to go deeper. Chuck Close is my favorite role model for working an entire lifetime on one theme – close up portraits. The span he covers with this one main theme is incredible. Click on this wikipedia link for more on him and his work.

Variety, however, is an important ingredient in our work, helping to keep our ideas fresh (see my previous post July 22, 2010 “Keeping Your Ideas Fresh”) and other important aspects of being an artist. If we are so consistent that our work is repetitive, we do not grow as artists and the work will eventually weaken. Yet, when we are so insistent on variety – the “never repeat yourself” syndrome, then we may flit around from style to style and never allow ourselves to take a concept deeper, to a more personal level, and to a more meaningful one .

The answer is always that tricky term “balance”, and the key to successful personal balancing is paying attention to how we feel. As our needs change, our feelings will let us know. Sometimes we may need to allow variety and experimentation to take us out of a rut, and re-energize our work. At other times we may hit on something that really gets us excited. These are the times to stretch 10-15 canvases all at once and create a series to see how far we can take the one idea.

Here is an interesting take on our ability for variety, taken from a quote from Robert Anton Wilson in his book “Prometheus Rising” (New Falcon Publications, 1983, p.125). Just prior to this, Wilson describes the human survival instincts that involve both consistency and variety;

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”



Blogger Amy said...

"Our feelings will let us know"
I think that about sums up why we make art - hopefully. So that balance will be unique and very personal. Chuck Close may have a narrowly defined niche, but he probably is still fascinated and excited by it.
I agree that usually the balance lies more in the middle, but there is such a difference between artist personalities and interests that it cannot be finitely defined. Thus, "our feelings will let us know".

December 7, 2010 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great post Nancy, i completly agree about the variety too :)

Fellow artist (wildlife)

December 8, 2010 at 3:35 AM  
Anonymous Oona said...

Wilson is actually quoting Robert A. Heinlein there.

December 20, 2010 at 7:19 AM  
Blogger PaintingsbyLinda said...

This is a great article. I teach Acrylic Painting and show my students a variety of topics. For myself, I paint various subjects- sometimes changing the technique- depending on the painting's subject.
Variety is most important in life- we should never get stuck in a rut.
I enjoy reading your tips on painting. Please see my blog and become a follower also:
web site:

January 28, 2011 at 4:15 AM  
Anonymous annie said...

thanks for your aticle... ^_^

April 6, 2011 at 8:38 AM  
Anonymous Steven said...

Nancy great blog I have learned a lot from it thanks!

January 28, 2012 at 5:50 AM  

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