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Finding yourself in Art

Updated: Aug 9, 2020

As artists, we all crave to cut our own path in art and get recognition for our endless hours of creative work. ‘Originality’ is a frequent topic amongst artists. It might be an advanced subject, but once an artist is comfortable with his / her medium, the next quest would be to forge signature work that snowballs the artist up into the next level.

This is not an easy endeavour. Actually it's so difficult to many, but appears to be plain easy for some. Let's have a closer look…

In such circumstances I like to compare visual artists to musicians. Let's look at rock bands for example. There are hundreds of thousands of bands around the world in all scales of competences. They are all trying, and enjoying, the task of making great tunes both for themselves and for their fans. Few however break the ground and make truly unique catchy music that spellbinds the masses. We all want to be in those few groups.

This notion sparks off many bands to pursue playing cover versions or heavily inspired work, (rather than building a repertoire from scratch), tapping into the success of others, hoping that the magic rubs off onto them and they take off into orbit via this slingshot. It works short-term but almost certainly it backfires and risks being type-cast as a follower and certainly not as a leader. An artist is definitely a leader, and cover work is a very dangerous path for the serious artist. Some manage to really make cover work their own, but in a few years the catapulting power fades and there is no basis for evolution and growth without backtracking drastically.

I have no magic formula - it does not exist, but I do have some advice and experiences that I can share. I have observed that many successful artists work in some degree of self-imposed artistic isolation (difficult these days with so much information and images online). Here are some of my lessons:

Look inside you for inspiration and not outside on the gazillion distractions surrounding you. Searching all over the internet on dry artistic blockage phase will likely yield frustration. Go back to your old sketchbooks and chances are that those doodles and your memory of them will have a better chance of sparking something up that you can build upon.

Often solutions are closer than you think - this is a very important lesson that I learnt. I often tried rather flamboyant and bombastic paths, only to realise after some years and tons of consumed energy that the ‘old’ home grown thoughts, that were all the time staring me in the face, were the ones that ended working the best. Your formative years keep calling you into their spell. No matter how much one grows out of the initial circle, the inner learning to do things as conceived in the younger days remains...

Look into your roots, be yourself and celebrate where you came from. What were you trying to paint in your youth? What inspired you to go into art in the first place? What makes you you? What are your other interests apart from art? Can you marry these interests with your painted world? Do you strongly identify with other subject matter and can you infuse this into your work?

Practice makes perfect - no matter how many ideas you have in your head.. You need the skill to express it on paper, or canvas, or whatever the medium.. Skill does not grow on trees, it is acquired through hundreds, or thousands of hours, often in life-long disciplines. It is never too late to start. Avoid hopping from medium to medium - unless you gave that medium a really good fight. There is no medium that will magically do the work for you.

Check out other artists' work and import inspiration, technicalities, and excitement from them, but only to add to your existing body of work. It's fun to come across an exciting artist. Do not rip-copy him / her, you do not need to. If you copy an artist, by the time you get good at imitating him / her, you're passe’, you're outdated and the original artist would have moved up and away from what you thought was the latest shiny thing. Read about the artist, research the person, where does he come from? Check out his body of work, not just the one piece that caught your eye.. Come back with knowledge and insight that could really help you.

I hope that this article inspires rather then pontificates. I’m in no way anywhere specific, or 'made it' in my art path. I too have my blank walls in my path, but I hope that these few points could help some of you out there. Who knows, I might come back to re-read this article myself in a year’s time.

Henry Falzon is an artist based in Malta

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