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Category: Blog, On My Soapbox

Today was a monumental occasion. At 6:04pm, CST, my 2-year-old daughter willingly parted with ALL of her Nuk-Nuks (a brand of pacifier). In ceremonial fashion, she “fed” them to the dinosaur at her favorite playground (author’s note: the “dinosaur” is actually a large dragon-like structure that snakes its way around a local playground.) For a toddler, this is a very big occasion, and only now, at bedtime, is she realizing that she gave up one of her security objects for good. This, of course, is necessary for kids her age, and shouldn’t be traumatic for too long, considering that she has napped without a pacifier at her daycare for well over a year.

Andy Warhol GunTravel back in time one week – my team and I take a company field trip to the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art to recharge our creative batteries. A Warhol exhibit is showing, which we didn’t know until after the trip was planned, which is an added bonus. The exhibit is titled “Andy Warhol: The Last Decade,” and is a collection of 55 works that include the Marilyn prints, “Gun” (my personal favorite,) and “The Last Supper.” Seeing Warhol’s work up-close and personal is amazing – the details in each piece, the colors, the variations in each repetition… I’m no Warhol expert, but I admire his intentions and technique.

As we were leaving, and I was reviewing the works I had seen, I came to a realization – every artist that has found some measure of fame and/or recognition (whether in life or death,) has done so with a signature style. If I say Pollack, what comes to mind? Now Warhol (soup, anyone?) Picasso, Duchamp, Mondrian…each artist created a style that defined their career. As an artist, a consistent aesthetic is regarded as a style. However, for many, a style can become a crutch. A safety blanket, if you will. And once an artist establishes that style, it can be very hard to deviate from the habit.

Fast-forward to present-day, my toddler now sleeping soundly. I guess the pacifier wasn’t crucial to her survival as her wailing once indicated. She has survived, and will probably sleep just fine. What about Warhol? Would he have survived as an artist without popular culture as his muse?

Thus brings me to the eternal question – does artistic style limit, or define, and artist? Both concepts seem separate, I know. However, let’s examine the details. Limitation prevents exploration beyond predetermined boundaries. In this case, boundaries set by the artist through his or her own habit of style. And it’s through that style that an artist is defined, hence one begats the other. So, by creating a style, an artist becomes identified by it, and thus is personally defined by the viewer as his or her style.

starry-nightPicasso is arguably the most well-known post-Renaissance artist ever. To art history buffs, he is the co-founder of the Cubist movement. To the average Joe, he’s that guy that painted those weird abstract pictures. Either way, he is unmistakable and immortal, all because of the style he helped invent. But before Pablo Picasso painted Starry Night, he was accomplished in Realism, a style that aspires to mimic real life. If he was so good at Realism, why isn’t that what he’s known for? Simple – because everyone else during the same time period was attempting to master the exact same technique.

It was his influences and choices that took him to the level of success he later achieved with an art form that no one had ever seen before. But that was his style – a method that was all his own.

Warhol did the same thing by helping pave the way for Pop Art. But again, his style is what defined him. And if he ever adopted a style different than his Pop Art pieces, chances are few people would know about them. Why? Because, again, his style limited him to what he had become defined by, and what he had become acclaimed for through commercial success.

And thus it became his Nuk-Nuk – a safe place that ultimately defined him, and became his legacy.

As my daughter sleeps, and I think about all those pacifiers randomly strewn about the ground at the dinosaur playground, I take comfort in knowing that those Nuk-Nuks will not be her childhood legacy. She will not be known as the little girl that always needs a pacifier. She is growing up, and hopefully now realizes she no longer needs them.

And that’s the point for us artists that aren’t modern masters… if any of us are lucky enough to gain commercial success through our style, we should embrace it. But it can’t define us. An artistic style will only serve to limit our exploration. And you’ll never stop learning or growing if you find too much comfort at one place in life.

My daughter taught me that – she is far more capable of change than I am. I only hope that I can find the courage to break out of my cycles too.

©2010 Bryan Lester

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