Talking about "voice" comes up time and time and time and time again among artists on several lists I belong to. Is it redundant? In a way yes, but it is always worth talking about because it seems to be an eternal quandary for artists. We worry ourselves to death about whether we are authentic, whether we are original, whether we are echoing somebody else's work, whether we are any good at all - and especially whether we are expressing ourselves in a way that is uniquely ours, aka VOICE.
Sigh...voices change as we grow. When my kids were little and called me at work, all three of them sounded the same, so I said "hi sweetie," till I could figure out from context who it was. After a few years their voices changed (espcially my son's). My daughters still sound similar but the context remains distinct for each of them: their personalities, what they say, and how they they say it allows me to identify their voices. I believe it is the same thing with our art. Don't you think so? At least, I would hope that none of us is making exactly what we made 5-10-15- 20-and more(for some of us) years ago.
Does this sound like my "voice?" Not sure anybody (but one or two people who saw this piece when I first made it) would identify it as mine.
I started this piece almost 15 years ago after I sat in a chamber music concert listening to a piece in a minor key. Then I wondered how you would express a minor key visually and decided to try. I was not happy with it because it was on a different background (and already quilted, btw) so I put it away till about five years ago, when I took it apart and changed the background fabric. (This is all irrelevant). Originally called Life in a Minor Key, I changed the title to Blue Note. (also irrelevant).
What is relevant is that as I look at the piece, so different from how I work now - my voice is there.
1) it is layered and I still work in layers, albeit with other processes, and 2) my work is still expressing life in a minor key -- whether it is obvious to the viewer or not.
I've said this before, I think - but it bears repeating. I once had to write an artist's statement for a solo exhibit. When I groaned, the gallery director said "tell me what you do and why you do it." It forced me to take out all my work, throw it on the floor, and look at it to see what it was about and what the common elements were. What I do and how I do it may have changed, but what a lot of my work is about has not changed. Listen to your work over the last 5-10 years and hear what it is saying - and you will know what your "voice" sounds like.
Remember - every voice has a range and sings a lot of different songs - but the underlying timbre is recognizable. What do you "hear" in your own work? Comments, please!
A wonderful posting! I confess I have asked myself about the "uniqueness quest". There are so many artists that it is virtually impossible not to touch someone else's realm or field they're working on. We share tools, colors, fabrics (unless we print them). Yet, I believe in what you call voice, maybe it is clearer for others than for ourselves -- just as the recording of your own voice sounds strange to you and familiar to the rest of us.
I'll bite! I started painting in 1968, abstract at first (I was terrified of trying to create anything that looked recognizable!), but gradually I began to paint from nature... seascapes, flowers, trees, etc. Over time, I migrated toward fiber arts, but still loved nature. In 1998, I started to tie-dye, and stuck with traditional patterns for awhile, but little by little, nature crept in... stitched 'fern' designs, batik autumn leaves... well, you get the picture! My medium may have changed, but my 'voice' has always tended to be about the beauty of nature. In 2007, I began to make art and landscape quilts, and most of what I do there is... you guessed it! You can see my art quilts at http://www.tiedyejudy.com/Art%20Quilts.htm.
Thanks Rayna for you well written and thought provoking post. I believe Picasso ( the great lifter of his friends ideas) seldom worried about how unique or original the individual pieces were he just used their ideas as a base for his own and went off from there. It is the going off from there that is the key for me. That would be impossible to do if you are following a specific pattern, but even then you can make color choices, etc. Since I have not the patience to follow the directions this is never a problem. My questions revolve more around how to describe what I do... what descriptor do I want to apply... which group am I aligned with. Not really a very useful concern.
Great thought provoking post, Rayna! I resisted the impulse to jump in on the SAQA discussion as I just returned home from 5 stimulating days with Els Van Baarle. Right now my creativity is engaged and I don't want to get so analytical that it retreats to where I am stuck again in my left brain. I must add though that there are artists whose work has not changed at all in 25 years. Sure it is recognizable but also has the potential to be BORING!
Wonderful thoughts. I would agreed that you need to identify your voice but it should change/grow but without losing the original precept. And that's where I am at, the original figuring. So thanks for the thoughts!
I hear my grandmother in my ear when I look at my quilts... and recently started hearing my own! Some of my ART,(drawings and paintings are creeping into my quilts) slightly more me... It's good to sit and listen to them... ;-)
Hi Rayna-loved your thoughts on this subject. In general I think pulling together a show, and, of course, writing an artist's statement help me define for myself, in words, what my voice or "vision" is. very important. thanks for the inspiration to reassess my work more often.
I'm so happy to hear you address the fact that many artists have more than a single voice. I've know this about myself for years and have looked at the work of famous artists whose work reflects this as proof that I'm on the right track. It seems like a very direct thing to me as we are all so complex and have so many facets to our lives that this has to come through in our art.
How can I not be me? I don't think we work in a vacuum so I wouldn't be surprised that people were influenced by someone else, even subconsciously. I like that. I just think it is a lack of confidance that makes us doubt our own efforts and authenticity. I try to ask myself each time how to make something my own, especially if I see a method or style that someone else has tried. I try to think about, "What am I trying to do or say?" I know that I have an internal clash when something doesn't seem like "me." Lastly, I think your art, if you let it, can be like a fingerprint-uniquley yours.
Great post so thank you:)
I think part of the reason so many quilters/fiber artists worry so much about finding their original voice is because we take so many classes learning the techniques that are needed to do our art. I love to take classes where teaching the technique is secondary and helping the student design is primary. Its really helped find my voice!! And yes my voice is ever changing - always evolving and uniquely me!
I think of keys in colours too...but minor keys tend to be cooler, greener whereas the majors are the red ones! I'd be interested to know what your first background colour was!!
Reminds me of a song from Sunday in the Park with George ( I think in songs). Dot sings "Stop worrying if your vision is new, let others make that decision they usually do, just keep moving on."
I've come to realize that it isn't just finding a voice but creating a visual language using symbolism and design.
But I think that websites are incredibly useful for reviewing our work of course some of us remove the early pieces but I keep a retrospective for sentimental reasons and to evaluate my evolution (which is really slow......)
Thanks for your thoughtful post.
My issue is as I grow my experienced in using different media and camera's and programs I wish to revisit old work had a strong idea and try and recreate and improve on that idea, other wise it seems wasted (since I thesed days prefer to not have that item or work seen). Interesting article, and it makes me feel like pulling out all my stuff and standing back and trying to figure out the most strongest common theme connecting the works.
In continuation, I think as long as you are always consciously aiming for originality that's all you can do, countless times I've taken surrealist b/w self portraiture photos, or surrealist music videos then seen a similar idea in someone else's work (Lady Gaga has caused me great angst in coming out with videos with some similar ideas I've put it a video or scripted and had to scrap!) or had a comment on flickr going "this reminds me of....." and I used to get so upset and worried people would think I was ripping of another artist's idea, and so frustrated as I believed my idea was unique. I think if you aim for originality and are conscious of always aiming to not borrow ideas from other people's work then you know in your heart you have done all you can do, and are able to work away with a clear conscience. I find in song writing though, I'll come up with something I think is amazing and show it to my boyfriend and he'll go "hey that's (insert well known song)" and suddenly my brilliant idea is not so brilliant, I have subconsciously plagiarised another song and must scrap the tune and start over. It can be good to have someone to bounce ideas of and get feedback from to avoid accidental idea stealing too.
Your advice is great, so true. Hope you don't mind if I post a link to this blog post.
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