Artistic Voice

Something that has been on my mind a lot recently is the idea of an artistic voice. One of the things I was not expecting when going freelance was how much of a struggle it would be to figure out what kind of things I want to be doing. I am definitely not lacking in ideas of what I could be doing, or should be doing, the question is more of what is my unique perspective? What do I have to say that is valuable? What do I want to be known for?

I am still at loggerheads with this and it has been hindering my progress for some time now. I have never felt that I had a clear, distinct style to my work. At art college everything I made looked like it was created by a different person. There is no loyalty to any particular content, colour, medium or size. There are certain themes that run throughout but looking back at my work from 5 years ago, I don’t feel any desire to continue creating work in that vein. I don’t actually like any of the work I made 5 years ago, in fact most of the time when I create a piece of work, I look back on it an hour later and hate everything about it. I think this stems in part from two things, one is that I don’t feel there is an individual voice in my work and therefore I find it difficult to take ownership of it. Two, I think a lot of the work I have made before doesn’t really have much to say. A lot of the things don’t have much of a story to them or meaning to me, and I made a lot of work which feels kitsch to me. 

Following art college I worked freelance for a year whilst having a part time job but I don't think I really tried. I got a fair amount of projects off of the back of my degree show, but I never really put too much effort into self-promotion or trying to keep that momentum goin. I think I felt insecure about illustration being a 'real' job that 'real' people could have, and unfortunately my parent's opinion did not help this. Of course it's not true, illustrating full-time is a perfectly legitimate career, but I have this sort of awful thing about myself where I think that if I'm not suffering in some way that I'm not doing enough and don't deserve to be earning a living. Upon leaving the academic institution I think I was also left with a gaping hole which would normally be filled by external approval from some kind of authority. I didn't know what to do if there was nobody watching me and giving me praise or feedback, and actually I don't think I was very good at taking feedback without it feeling like it was personal. I did a few projects in this year but I never really put my heart and soul into it and I still felt like the work I was creating was reacting to each brief in a different way, rather than holding true to some sort of steady course.

I felt like maybe I wasn't suited to this freelance malarkey and I was an opportunity to develop a stable career with a salary and pension scheme and all those other delightful things. Thus, it wasn't long before the real world spit me back into the academia and I found myself doing a Masters in Advertising and Design. Although I learned a huge amount about business from this course, I can't say that it helped me with my dilemma about artistic voice and perhaps I felt more confused than ever. 

Following this I made the decision to find a job as a graphic designer. By this point I had built up the graphic design part of my portfolio a bit and so I was able to find that coveted, salaried desk-job. Yay. (sarcasm intended) 

There I was guided to follow many many many many different styles. In fact the way most creative agencies respond to briefs isn’t very creative. Most designers are instructed to approach a brief by first finding visual inspiration. They will pull from the same set of sources (primarily from the internet) and in my experience, once you have found a few solid reference images which gel together, you are then asked to create a new piece that follows this ‘inspiration’ like a recipe. It’s very prescriptive and actually does not leave any room for a playful approach that would lead to something more unique. After all, time is money, and it is much more efficient to remix a proven concept than to experiment with new things that aren’t necessarily going to work. Thus in my 3 years of working in an agency - I found myself copying a multitude of different illustrative styles, and never exploring my own artistic voice. Perhaps if I felt more restricted by what I could do then I would feel like my style was more consistent, but at this point I’m not sure what it is that really speaks to me. I feel like I've become the Jack of All Trades but Master of None. Some people say that this versatility is a blessing but I'm tired of it. I want to be a master damnit!

There are a few things that I definitely know I like and that I find consistent within my work so I suppose it isn’t necessarily about finding a style but about choosing what feels like mine and finding fidelity to that style. The only way I think I can achieve this is by consistently creating personal work and trying to shoehorn every creative brief into my vision rather than the standard back-seat approach where I take someone else's lead. I am still in the process of figuring out what exactly my voice is but I know its not going to happen overnight. I’m also not sure what the best way to do it is, but I do know that it is very important to me and that persistence should pay off.

Are there any other artists with similar issues? Do you have any advice or exercises that can help? Would love to hear about it.