Reading: Extreme You – Part 4: Break Yourself to Make Yourself

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IN Part 1 I explored drive, In Part 2 I looked at standing out, in Part 3 I looked at specialization, and finally in Part 4 I am exploring starting over.

Or more accurately I am looking at Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s chapter Break Yourself to Make Yourself from her book Extreme You.

Essentially she talks about that point in time in your career where objectively speaking everything is going well, and will for the foreseeable future, but there is no growth. It is time to move on. It is time to try something different.

I think that this can be very relevant to an artist career. There is a lot of pressure, if you have managed against the odds to find something that works in the market place, to stick with it and continue putting out visually or conceptually similar work. The famous example of course is Philip Guston, who as a successful abstract painter during the height of modernist painting made a radical shift back to figuration. Below are examples of his later and earlier work. I highly recommend you see more of his work. Google it. Wikipedia it. Go forth. But for now, back to the post.
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So, as I was this saying, this can be a challenge for an artist, because if you break out of what you are known for, well, people can’t seem knowledgable when they look at one of your paintings and can say without looking at the title, “oh thats a Bob Loblaw, I’d know his brushwork anywhere…” or whatever. And your gallerists are terrified that this new work won’t sell, because your established collectors “really like the emptiness of your lake scenes, they find the riotous colours and crowded compostions of the beach scenes to be claustrophobic’ blah blah blah.

Over time though, and from my own experience, every change circles back to a core centre of interest. The change was necessary to approach it from a different angle, a different understanding.

I have come under attack, well not attack, more just criticism, for having wildly disparate styles, sometimes abandoning  what others think I should be following.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that for each person who thinks I should go this way, someone else seems to think the other direction is more interesting!

So despite the pressure to develop my unique and recognizable style as an artist, and O’Hagans prior advice on playing your specialist game (part 3) she (and I) think it is important to maintain the right to explore different avenues, because each leads us to grow, rounds out our understanding of the world, and eventually converges with the other directions.

However, if anyone has a solution to problem of delivering the 30 second elevator pitch with so many irons in the fire,  I’d love to hear it.