“People are too complicated to have simple labels.”—Philip Pullman
I’m not into labels. I don’t like when people try to label me or others based on demographics, geography, and lifestyle. When labels are used like that, they miss the subtleties and depth of the person being labeled.
Labels can be used about and by artists in ways that are likewise damaging. It’s ironic that artists, who constantly strive to push boundaries in style, form, and function, so often end up labeled into stylistic categories that mentally limit them and inhibit their creativity. Whether it’s a societal or a self-label, strictly calling yourself an “impressionist,” a “realist,” or an “abstract artist” can mentally cut off inspiration and stimulus, as there are truly no limits when it comes to a canvas, a paintbrush, and a creative mind!
Don’t believe me? If you think of yourself (and refer to yourself) as an abstract artist who works in acrylics, you won’t explore other types of mediums or styles of art. We’re not in college—we don’t need to pick a major and stick with it. We are free to explore, and expected to do so.
Chefs are similar to artists in many ways. And while a chef may be famous for one style of cuisine, I’d bet that they experiment with all sorts of cuisines on a regular basis, allowing for inspiration and cross-fertilization to take place.
In this same way, we artists should constantly be experimenting with new types of art and new mediums. This type of experimentation is exactly what led me to branch out from realistic painting and fall head over heels in love with abstract painting years ago. Do I need to label myself an abstract painter now? I prefer to label myself as an artist who follows her bliss! And I don’t know where my bliss will take me next—but I know I’ll follow where it leads.
Debora Stewart, in her book Abstract Art Painting: Expressions in Mixed Media, aptly states:
“In abstraction, you must be open to change and surprise along the way. You must let go of outcomes. You do need to have a plan and direction for what you hope to accomplish, but you also need to be open to changing direction. I like to think of it as ‘getting out of my own way.'”
Experimenting with a new stylistic form can feel intimidating, but it’s more of a mental strain than an art practice challenge. For example, the same basic principles of art apply: value, composition, the rule of thirds, and all other standard fundamentals that are crucial to creating a dynamic and appealing work of art still apply.
The biggest challenge when trying something new is likely having to silence the voices that prompt you to stick with the comfortable medium and approach that you’re used to. You must welcome uncertainty and reframe it as excitement.
I challenge you today to disrupt your “status quo” and find a way to explore an art style or technique that’s new to you. Think of yourself as an artistic adventurer setting off on an adventure! No matter the result, you’ll grow as an artist.
I’d love to know what artistic labels you’ve been living under. Let me know in the comments so I can cheer you as you break free of them!