Every creator has a unique style. Sir John Everett Millais was a Pre-Raphaelite with a flare for dark scenes that often included Jesus, fainting ladies, or the occasional phallic object. Salvador Dali had his surrealist landscapes and melting objects, with his realistic techniques that often defied physics. Donna Tartt has her unusually long descriptions of antique stores, which can be found in her sprawling novels, along with her unique neo-romantic prose. Rupi Kaur, though often the butt of many satirical tweets, is distinguished by her choppy poems and artsy analogies, which have nurtured the whitewashed Art Hoe movement and often compare heartbreak to sunflowers.
You can tell a painting is a Monet by his vague depictions of what you must assume to be beautiful scenery along with those muted, splotchy colors. You can spot a Van Gogh from practically a mile away. Oscar Wilde wouldn’t be Oscar Wilde without having his character fling himself onto a divan every other page, and Gillian Flynn wouldn’t be Gillian Flynn without writing about her murderous housewives gone rogue. Their styles are, in fact, what make their art and writing stand out from all other creators’. A style isn’t just what sets their creation apart, though—it’s their preferred technique and favored subject.
This I knew, and took way too seriously. I had cartoonish sketches from which I never strayed; I’d fallen into a habit of rarely venturing away from portraits; I steered clear of realism for the most part. My writing was strictly comprised of short poems and short stories, as I’d deemed novels and essays art forms I was just not supposed to create. I felt like they didn’t fit my “style,” so to create such things would be pointless and detrimental to my said style. I reached a point where I felt like I was repeating the same styles, looks, and formats over, and over, and over.
TLDR: I was in a rut. I’d limited myself to what I thought was my style. Really, though, I was limiting myself to what I believed to be my maximum capacity as an artist and writer. I assumed I wasn’t cut out for serious writing or realistic art, since everything I associated with my “style” was childish and amateur. I continued using 99-cent acrylic paint that was thinner than water, and I continued writing scraps of poetry on Word documents I never saved. Sometimes I’d subconsciously sketch a face or continue a story for more than 500 words, and I’d be terrified. I was so afraid of these changes that I stopped creating altogether.
I didn’t draw for months, nor did I pick up a paintbrush. I went a year without opening a Word document. Everything I’d created contradicted everything I previously believed my art style to be. I was so scared to change and venture into new art forms that I was hindering my own progress. How could I expect myself to grow as an artist when I was repeating the same methods over and over again? What else is there to do when you’ve already mastered your own technique?
The day I painted with oil paints for the first time was the day I fell out of my rut. Before then, I’d only used markers and low-quality acrylics. I painted a realistic portrait, and I was actually shocked by my own ability. I thought, “How did I not know I was actually good at this—at art?” Then the answer dawned on me: I wasn’t allowing myself to try new things! I’d been torn up for months, thinking I was burnt out or just talentless. But in reality, my style had been forced—unbearably confined.
Now I finally feel secure in my art, and because of that, am unafraid. Last week, I had no problem picking up a calligraphy pen. Turns out I’m not half bad at that either. But I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tried, right? People change, and it’s only fair that their art should change with them. I now feel like I can actually deem myself an artist—and write like the Founding Fathers.
Around the time I picked up my paintbrushes again, I also applied to my first online magazine with no prior writing experience other than untouched short stories. I had absolutely no experience in writing non-fiction (except a few political Tumblr rants, of course) or anything that exceeded a thousand words. To my surprise, I was a staff writer within a month. What I never imagined being a possibility for myself was suddenly a reality. I felt like an actual writer for the first time in my life. Now, my word counts exceed fifty thousand and my articles reach readers across the globe. That’s more my style, personally. I never thought I could actually be confident in my work, but I’m no longer afraid of writing longer pieces or sharing them. Insecurity is no longer my style—in art, writing, or life.
It took me months to realize what I believed to be my art style was actually accumulated self-doubt. I was so afraid to try new things because I was under the impression that I would inherently be unskilled in them, and that I would abandon my previous artistic image. When I finally ventured out into new practices, though, I discovered totally new, revelatory skills. The moment I accepted change as an artist, writer, and person, I gained knowledge I’d cut myself off from. While a style is something that can set a creator apart from all others, it can also become an impediment if it fails to ever change or grow. We must not be afraid of said change either, not if we want to improve or grow. Rather than perfecting our most familiar methods, we should attempt the terrifying and the ambitious—we should reinvent ourselves constantly. We should do anything except stay still—except remain static—as creators.
By Mary Dodys