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Finding Your Own Artistic Voice

Finding Your Own Artistic Voice

Eric Maisel

Dear Dr. Maisel:

I’ve been painting for a long time but I have the feeling that I still haven’t found my own voice as an artist. Do you have any suggestions for how an artist can go about discovering what she really wants to say?

Leslie T., Flagstaff

Thank you, Leslie.

Artists may work for a very long time, even a lifetime, and never quite find their artistic voice. They may know that their work isn’t really that fresh or interesting but not seem to possess the wherewithal to break through into deeply felt, personalized work. Here are ten tips for doing just that: for finding your voice as an artist.

1. Detaching from your visual library

A very common problem, and almost always an unconscious one, is the need an artist feels to make his work look like something he holds as “good art” or “real art””—very often Old Master art. Because he possesses an internal library of the successful artworks of well-known artists, without realizing that he is doing it he aims his art in the direction of those successes. It is vital that an artist detach from that visual library—extinguish it, as it were—so that his own imagery has a chance to appear.

2. Not resting on skills and talent

Maybe you excel at producing dynamic-looking cats or turning a patch of yellow into a convincing sun. That you have these talents doesn’t mean that you ought to be producing lifelike cats or brilliant suns. Your strongest subject matter and style choices are dependent on what you want to say rather than on what you are good at producing. By all means parlay your skills and talents—but don’t rely on them so completely that you effectively silence yourself.

3. Allowing risk-taking to feel risky

Very often the personal work you want to do feels risky to undertake. Intellectually, you may find the way to convince yourself that the risk is worth taking—but when you try to take the risk you balk because you suddenly feel anxiety welling up. Remember that a risk is likely to feel risky. Get ready for that reality by practicing and owning one or two anxiety management strategies that allow you reduce your experience of anxiety.

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