You don’t learn to walk by following rules…
You learn by walking and falling down.
I once saw a beautiful painting by an artist I hadn’t known of, depicting a thin layer of dough flattened out on a sheet.
The piece was so original and unassuming that it stayed with me for years. I’d never seen uncooked dough rendered in paint before, though the two substances seem perfectly matched, and I doubt the artist had either before taking it on herself. The work seemed to come straight out of personal experience and fondness for the materials. I just recently learned that it was painted by Brooklyn artist Josephine Halvorson.
I begin this post with the Branson quote for two reasons. First to point out that what we learn from artists often leads to following the rules (or trying too hard to break them) more than it does a heartfelt connection with our subject. Second, the quote is an example of wisdom from a high achiever living outside the art bubble which can be applied to the creation of art.
“Which artists have influenced you most?”, is one of the most common questions we get.
I love Velasquez. And Holbein. Sargent, Hammershoi, Edwin Dickenson, Morandi, Richard Diebenkorn, Lopez, Wyeth and a bunch of others. And I look at their stuff in small doses, knowing that their vision will alter my own whether I want it to or not.
I do this because most people are understandably too busy with career, family, and life to familiarize themselves with the masters, whose work may seem distant from a 21st-century perspective. Too much reverence for art, past or present, creates a pictorial language and style that connects artists mostly to other artists. Or as I sometimes put it, we’re sharing an inside joke and leaving everyone else out.
Every great thinker says the same thing… Don’t do what the others are doing. But don’t reinvent the wheel either. Just five percent different or five percent better says Brian Tracy, is enough to set you apart.
It could be a difference in the work itself or one’s way of getting it out there. The west coast painter Antrese Wood maintains a beautiful site filled with her paintings, a blog, her Savvy Painter Podcast interviews with career painters, articles, and useful info. One could easily spend an hour of inspiration there and: surprise! Her pieces are being snatched up by collectors as she becomes a household name.
I’m not suggesting that one shouldn’t go to museums and seek inspiration from the world’s great talents . Just reminding readers, especially the younger ones, that every old master was once a modern master whose work was a big surprise in its time.