Scream Your Message.

4 min read

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A few years ago I was invited to show my paintings to a particular gallery owner who was known as a trend-setter. My stomach was filled with knots. Would he like my work? Would he sign me to an exclusive contract and make me rich and famous? Once at the gallery I carefully presented my original canvases but was met with a situation I had not imagined: The gallery owner lectured me about how I needed to start painting in the style of another artist.

“Never mind what you want to paint,” he told me. “You should look at the way this other artist does it. Everyone in town is looking at this other artist. You should be emulating this other artist too, if you want success.”  I was dumbfounded. The fact that he did not favorably respond to my own paintings was a drag. Yet, his immediate lecture that I begin painting like another person filled me with nausea. I had to go home and paint in “my own style” just to get the taste out of my mouth.

Years later, the art world and the pages of it’s trade magazines are filling up with artists who are intent upon emulating that other artist’s current style. I am sure, in fact, that the Gallery owner I met actually spoke to many of these emulators, setting them early on their road to emulation. It is as if the rush to be “new and different” in the last few decades was now being replaced with a rush to be “similar”. The pendulum swings both ways.

I love art history. I do not care about the dates and boring stuff. I care about the stories of individual artists - painters, writers, photographers, designers- who maintained their own voices even as trends, critics and public opinion decried, or ignored them. I also love hearing about artists who were wildly successful and still had the courage to find their own way of working, even when it meant redefining themselves.

Remember, friends, that art making is not a pissing contest. It may feel like it sometimes, but it is not. It is a journey. The cockiness and intoxication we feel, the joy and sadness, the love and confusion, the blindness and strength that make up our personal lives is all fuel for our art. Making art is the same as writing your personal diary. I cannot write your diary and you cannot write mine.

We gain inspiration from the art of others, but each of us has muses and angels, I believe, who wait patiently for us to learn to trust our own impulses. Making art need not be like walking a straight line at a sobriety checkpoint. It can be a romp. It can be a dance. It can be a somersault.
The fact is… ( and you can see it already, I think )  that years from now, art students will flip through the faded pages of art magazines and explore the web archives dating from 2009 and they will smirk. “How funny that so many artists were trying to make art in the style of someone else,” They will say.  
“There was so much possibility and there was so much happening in the world then, with the climate, in politics, in the cities and in science. The family structure, the search for spiritual meaning, the quest to maintain individual vision and integrity…all of this was part of the landscape.” They will marvel  that so many of our peers surrendered their voice in order to fit in.

And hopefully they will come across your work. They will notice with admiration that you stuck to your guns. They will notice that the individual voice was alive and well amidst all the rush to conform.
I am here to remind you that your unique way of seeing the world really does fucking matter. it really does.
© 2009 - 2021 johnpaulthornton
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Odmo's avatar
Copying the 'so called' best is the most fatal mistake anyone can make no matter how much money it makes. Your easily forgotten wham that best isn't popular anymore.
johnpaulthornton's avatar
Our own voice matters.
Thanks for reading.

John Paul
BlackButterflyWings's avatar
I hope you don't mind, but I quoted you in a question for cultural studies about the degradation of aura, and how the simulation cheapens the original.
I'm not sure yet what mark I got, but your editorial helped me to highlight my point about the over commodification of art. It was all deeply intellectual :D.
Thank you for the help, even if you weren't aware you were giving it.
SophiaDragonMaster's avatar
I can't believe those people call this making art....Because art is something personal, and when you do something you don't want to, it'll never be as good as the stuff you really want to do.

I'm never gonna surrender my own style of what I want to do just because of people like this! :)
MD-Arts's avatar
Thanks for reminding us something so important.
johnpaulthornton's avatar
You are welcome.

of course, approaching a rude gallery owner with a flaming torch would be interesting as well...

Intergrativeone's avatar
...always lead... never follow...
yakiroba's avatar
gross. I'm glad you held your own rather than tried to conform ;) great encouragement, thanks for sharing! :D have a great week!
johnpaulthornton's avatar
Thanks for reading!

john Paul
corrasion's avatar
I agree 100%.

Finding my own style has definitely been something I've struggled with for a while, and still do sometimes. It's especially hard as an illustrator.

There are certain styles that seem to appeal to the population, and those are the ones that gain popularity. But what about those styles that don't get as much attention? They still deserve it.

We should be able to develop our own styles... it's all part of the learning process as an artist.
johnpaulthornton's avatar
Caroline, Thank you!

In your field, sometimes the more individual the style, the greater the appeal...

corrasion's avatar
Rubius's avatar
I love your stories so much... thank you! :cuddle:
The part about muses being patient was really helpful to read... :blushes:
johnpaulthornton's avatar
surthur's avatar
I think my muse is just as the pendelum, swinging there , swinging here, be an angel, be a devil, it seems more like its a vast pool of possibility, rather then the usual muse :/ so I cannot point who "I" am , as I could be nearly "everything" and "nothing". I personally dislike emulating, but I think its rather because I do want to find myself . this all might be a mistake, and maybe it wouldnt be wrong to our muse/angel/daimon/white rabbit to emulate at all, as all might be one. But who does know, maybe the pendelum is truth itself, and truth is swinging :o9 good article anyway, I especially like the pissing contest part.
johnpaulthornton's avatar
Fantastic response, Tim. Very thoughtful and true.

Where in Germany are you?

John Paul
surthur's avatar
Maybe :o)

Physically I live in the franconian part of bavaria. In a town which has a remarkable loads of freemason history, which would drive paranoid minds crazy ;)

One might wonder wether it is the freemasons presence or the high degree of foreigners and new germans that caused this town to have the highest degree of policemen and lowest rate of crime in this part of the country, or wether its simply the systematical accumulation of rich townspeople ( they lured a lot of rich jews but only the rich ones ) in the past.

Which is your current destination in the States ?
johnpaulthornton's avatar
Los Angeles.

Home of Hollywood, Rock and Roll, Popular Culture and "beautiful" people...
surthur's avatar
Well, aside from fake noses and rockhard boobs, I am sure its quite a visual inspiring place, isnt it ? Or do you just live there for a living ?
johnpaulthornton's avatar
I was born and raised here...

My family is here and I am very close to them. Elsewise, one day I may move.

But it is very exciting here. Great art scene, amazing city culture, and yes, the beaches are divine.

But it is also a crowded, odd place.
LEX08's avatar
im liking the clothing design feild, but i feel that this can apply to any feild of artwork. people want to be within the area of 'safety' in what others see of them. if they're seen as different they change to fit in. but i say "NO! dont change who you are. if your style is different, youre lucky. keep it that way." but people would rather fit in than stand out. do you mind if i feature this in my journal?
LEX08's avatar
honeyroastedfrost's avatar
Wuh-oh. My muse is looking kind of funny. I suggest that gallery owner hide.
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