Visual Ideas

Episode 176 · May 1st, 2021 · 37 mins 18 secs

About this Episode

Artists often worry that their work is derivative of another artist’s work and may be very concerned about being overly influenced by someone else’s style or technique. This problem certainly does exist in the art world and is something to guard against because most of us do want our work to be original and unique. But in every field of endeavor, people build on and respond to the work of others, and this is no different for artists. Today we talk about building on, rather than appropriating, other people’s ideas.

Being authentic in our work doesn’t negate influences of all sorts, because we are never creating in a void. Yet if you’re told your work closely resembles like that of a friend, a teacher, or well-known artist you admire, it can be inhibiting or embarrassing. A strong resemblance can happen unconsciously especially early on when you are finding your own voice, and most of the time it’s a phase that passes as you find your own way. But it is a struggle many artists go through and they may feel inadequate or insecure as they work through that time.

With all the influences artists experience, how can we produce work that is truly innovative and individual? Art history highlights times when new ideas appeared, such as perspective in the Renaissance, the rejection of realism in Modernism, or the embrace of cultural icons in pop art, and we may easily feel that there is nothing left to discover. But while a few individuals stood at the forefront of these movements, many others took also took part, sharing ideas and approaches, and advancing the overarching ideas that were being explored. For most of us, individuality in our work comes not from inventing totally new approaches, but from integrating and synthesizing ideas from various sources.

Working with visual ideas rather than mimicking the look or style of another artist is key to this process. This means going beyond the superficial appearance of other people's work into a more conceptual realm. It means being a fellow traveler with others as you explore ideas in art together. Every artist works with visual ideas having to do with the visual elements, design principles, and subject matter and in that sense similarities are inevitable. But there are infinite variations in synthesizing visual ideas in unique ways, that are the basis of personal voice and direction.

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