I’ve always had a hard time fitting into boxes. Am I an abstract expressionist painter? Not quite and not consistently. Am I in the category of the Outsider artist or a self-taught artist? Not really. Neither of those titles describes art. They more or less describe an artist’s story. I’ve come to learn those are useless terms.
I could say my work is modern, but “Modernism” has a distinct meaning in art history, which happened before I was even born. None of this is to say that artists who describe themselves as Outsiders, abstract-expressionists, Modernists, or anything else or the sort are wrong. One can identify however they please. There are a jillion terms to choose from.
It’s a wide net, but “contemporary artist” is about all I feel justified in using, officially. My work has been described as raw, naive, art brut, singular, primitive, folky, funky, unique, strange, childlike, crafty, whimsical, and even feminist. I can’t do anything about that except to use those words as hashtags. It comes in handy to help people find me more easily. But I couldn’t care less about the words themselves.
And at this point in my career, I don’t exactly consider painting to be my ultimate media. I do a lot of things in a wide variety of media. I’ve never been bothered with being consistent. I make Artist’s books, drawings, installations, paintings, and print editions. I’ve played with video, I’ve sewn soft sculptures, I’ve made other three-dimensional objects, web projects, and I write. There’s probably more, but the fact is, it doesn’t matter what I do; I’m just an “artist.” I’ve never had a problem with that title because I’m making art. I mean, what else is it? It has no other practical use except to throw on top of a trash heap, which isn’t “practical” or economical. And it’s illegal to light it on fire, even if you don’t like it. Only I have the right to do that.
A lot of artists worry about developing their style. Maybe they feel they have to stick to one thing and do it over and over. Say, spill paint to the canvas, call it their signature brand of abstract expressionist art, and hope their voice will begin to emerge. But, that’s not how style-development, or voice-development, happens.
Developing voice happens over time by making what you want while doing your very best. It doesn’t matter if the piece looks consistent with the last thing you made. You may come back around to doing something similar without even planning on it, or you might not. Just remember that your time is never wasted. You’ll always be learning and evolving, and your voice emerges whether you want it to or not by doing over many years.
Most new artists don’t have patience. I didn’t. That’s something you can’t instill in them, or even beat into them. They may not realize that working on what’s right in front of them in the present is what’s important. It’s the thing that’s going to catapult you to the next great place. That takes focus. Learning focus can help with patience. Don’t think about the end-game or “finishing” it. Don’t cut corners. It takes as long as it takes.
And it doesn’t matter what kind of artist you are. Don’t be so married to boxes or terms like “abstract artist.” You know, you might not even be making abstract art anyway. Someone else might consider it “decorative design” or even “rayonism.” Or maybe there’s a whole new term for your work that hasn’t been invented yet.
The first step is to call yourself an artist. Free yourself. No matter what you do, you have the permission to venture off into unknown places. Take risks, always. Don’t be afraid. That way, whatever you do with your hands and your mind is your art. Your voice. You won’t have to “try.” Artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Louise Bourgeois, and Kiki Smith come to mind right off the bat. Media and style never mattered to these artists. They just made/make art in their own voice.
So, make art and don’t worry about the rest.