Unification is the word I've been using in my art journal for the past several years to describe my process of making my painting style more consistent. I have been painting in more or less 2 different styles; one simple and stylized like this:
..and one more realistic, like this:
I am working toward creating all of my paintings in one style instead, and that style will be more or less in between these two styles. To “unify” my style in other words. Hence the word unification.
When I tell people about this they often say "why? Your art is fine just the way it is”. The reason has to do with 2 things. The first is for business. Art galleries want their artists to work in one style. It’s harder for them to explain an artist to collectors and therefore sell an artist’s work if the artist has more than one style. And gallery owners usually consider it unprofessional for an artist to have more than one style, which I agree with to some degree. And the gallery’s collectors get confused too. “Wait, you mean this artist did this, and that? Which do they do?” For various reasons it is less important in arts festivals, but even for art festivals it’s preferable for artist’s to present one style.
But the second thing is much more important than business. It is for purely artistic reasons. When an artist chooses to work in one style, they are much more able to put the essence their personality, and who they are, into their art. This is because this self imposed constraint forces them decide on the approach that they have the most affinity for - their favorite form in other words, and this form is an important part of their personal voice. And this, practiced over the course of years, produces very personal and, if the artist is interested in beauty, very beautiful art. Some great examples of this for me are: Georgia O’keeffe, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, Robert Crumb, Goya, and Henri Rousseau. All of these artists chose one direction, stuck to it, and followed that thread of development, which led to the unique and very personal style of art that they are known for today. These artists, as well as many others whose names are not so well known but who work in this way, are an inspiration for me in this process, and I notice that all the artists whose work I love have approached their work this way.
Some artist’s don’t like to limit themselves in this way. I’ve talked to fellow artists who really like to work in many styles and find it stimulates their creativity. I’d be curious to hear opinions from other artists about this topic in the comments below.
I have done four paintings since committing to this adventure of unifying my painting style, starting about 2 months ago. They are the top four paintings on my paintings page on my website. I am working on quicker paintings, partly for the purpose of keeping track of this process. The paintings done before these four paintings are organized by theme. For the next year I am going post my paintings chronologically and not by theme so you will be able to see how this unifying thing is going for me. I’m also posting them this way so I can look and see how the process is going for me. As my paintings sell and are no longer hanging around my apartment, the best place for me to see them all together and to see the whole process is on my website. I’m noticing already in my last four paintings that I am leaning a bit toward more stylized with some and toward more realistic with others. I expect to go back and forth and gradually narrow and settle towards a comfortable middle ground. I know for sure that I am going to stylize my human figures more. I expect my figures to be deliberately imperfect. I’m not going to shoot photo reference for them any more. While I am narrowing my style, I hope to keep my subject matter diverse. It might be better from a business point of view to narrow my subject matter as well as my style - galleries probably do tend to like that better - but I want to resist this and try to have my painting unified by style more than content. I think a uniform style is a sign of maturity in an artist, but I don’t think the same necessarily holds true for content. Some of my paintings are funny, some are funny and serious at the same time, and some are serious, dealing with spirituality for example, without any irony or humor in them at all. Likewise, sometimes I am funny and sometimes I am serious. Ideally I would like to my art to represent my whole person.
I’m excited about this unification process. I may write more about it here in my blog, and at a minimum you will be able to see it in my new paintings as I post them. Thanks for reading and following my art!