My lack of a voice, or, “hey, what does it look like to you”?

Because I like to know my strengths (so I can accentuate them) and weaknesses (so I can correct them), I asked my computer graphics instructor the other day to tell me what she thought both were. She listed as my strengths my attention to detail, my draftsmanship ability, my work ethic, and my incredible speed (I pick up on things very quickly). As one weakness, she (correctly) listed my ability to be critiqued (I take critique really well, in that I don’t get bothered or offended and I do want to improve, but I constantly try to explain what I was thinking to the critiquer; my instructor rightly told me to let it go, and just listen). As another weakness, she listed my “lack of a voice” … ie, my work is everywhere.

I don’t know … to me, that’s not a weakness. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the great artists of the world … anyone great at anything, really … had an underlying passion, a singularity of purpose, a voice.

But … I don’t want to be great.

I am not an amazing artist or photographer, I’m a pretty good artist and photographer who loves to paint and take pictures. My graphic design work is good, I believe, fun and artistic, and yet it is definitely not of one style or theme. I put my whole into anything I’m doing, and I believe that I should do things as well as possible. And I feel a huge sense of responsibility when I know that someone is depending on me to do something well. I’ve been asked by several people to take on web design projects that I haven’t felt I have the training to do well (yet), and I’ve said no because I don’t want to take on something until I know I can handle it. But I like to do things differently, for the world to be a fresh canvas every day, and my contribution to it to change as I change.

In grad school, when I got my MFA in painting, I painted a lot of trees. At first I painted a lot of different things … religious themes (though I’m not religious, religion fascinates me), still-lifes, portraits, figures, landscapes.

Somehow in the world of grad-school critiques where a focus is a must, landscapes … then landscapes with trees … then landscapes with trees and paths … won out. Now I love paths … my road shots on Rte 1 in California, my NM horizon (road) shots, my VA road shots … they demonstrate this.

A road, stretching into the horizon, taking me … where? Leaves me breathless with anticipation. Which is why that theme won out in grad school, but one theme would never be my choice. Even worse was when my professors wanted me to narrow it more … why a path? Where was it leading? Would I reach the destination? What would be there? It was all so psychological, and all so not-me.

There I drew the line.

I’ll paint your trees, and your paths, but I refuse to analyze myself in the process. Just lemme paint. When a thesis show is hung, it includes a thesis statement (my work is all about blah blah blah) and a title and all sorts of self-labelling. I just couldn’t do it.

True to myself, true to my apparent lack of voice, my desire to just … explore … I labelled my show ‘Untitled’, I labeled every single painting ‘Untitled’, and I wrote in my statement that really each person should take what they could from my art, and not look to me for an explanation. I’d painted them; my job was done.

My most recent art show, a few years ago, was all abstracts, and once more I was faced with the daunting and yet seemingly inevitable task of titling all of my art. This time, I did something different. I put blank cards under each work and provided my visitors with pens. Some works had many titles, some had none, and all my new titles were wonderful to read. Maybe that’s my theme, my voice … let’s do this together, free and outside of any box.

2 thoughts on “My lack of a voice, or, “hey, what does it look like to you”?

  1. Thank you! it was wonderful. I treasured those little tag cards with all the different titles on them. People had more fun, and felt more a part of the show, and art really needs to involve people to be successful. And then, as you say, it helped me as well, to share their experiences.

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