Wednesday, February 21, 2007

being boring

A while ago, a fellow illustrator and I were having a discussion and she said to me, “Don’t you ever want to break out? Don’t you ever want to do something really different?”

The question surprised me. Yet, in a way, looking back, I’m surprised I was surprised. It seems to be fairly par for the course that artists radically change their style, sometime a different one for each book. Meghan even posted how she felt winners of the Caldecott are oftentimes a well-known illustrator who has changed his/her style.

Because, I think we equate change with progress and courage. “It’s so brave of him/her to change his/her style like that,” someone will say, “and not stick to his/her same old way, the same old things.”

But when I hear this, I always think of the artist Giorgio Morandi, a painter we studied in school. For most of his career he painted bottles and vases. The same objects and shapes over and over again—for years and years. Each painting was beautiful, the sensitivity to light, the placement, the simplicity of his strokes. But you’d think that by, say, painting #10, he’d figure he had still life mastered, be bored and would want to move on. But he didn’t.

And I realize how admirable his dedication was; how much braver it was for him to continue to do what he believed in. Audiences thought his work was boring and mundane, yet he continued. There was something about these still lives that fascinated him. Maybe to him, to feel that he had mastered this subject matter was hubristic. Maybe to him, there was always so much more to discover.

So, even though sometimes I worry that people think I stick to the “same old thing” (as all my books seem similar), I’m reluctant to change just for change’s sake. Right now, I enjoy finding out how much there is to discover in what others might think is a narrow field. I’m not saying that I will do sixty years worth of books on Asian culture; but when my friend asked me, “Don’t you ever want to break out?” I did say, “No.”


Elaine Magliaro said...

There are lots of award-winning artists who don't vary their style of illustrating much once they find the one that seems to suit them best. How about David Wiesner? Allen Say? William Steig? Lois Ehlert? Denise Fleming?
Should I go on?

Grace, I love your style of illustrating. It is unique to you.
You don't need to add more salt or pepper to a recipe that is already seasoned to perfection!

Anonymous said...

Ha! I get that question. I can do a lot of different styles, so why bother with the same thing?

1) recognition. I want everyone to recognize my book from across the room.

2) I'm still learning and advancing

3) the best artists worked for years and years on their craft/style. Jumping around will mean good at many, master at none

What's so great about artists is their obsessions with random things, things that puzzle onlookers. For a while all I painted was toilets. I had a fascination with them. Can a toilet be engaging? Beautiful? Hmmm... perhaps I can post some toilet pics.


Anonymous said...

I love that. I've been thinking lately about how in our culture we just rip through things, everything's disposable . . . I want to take the time to get to know ONE thing WELL, you know? Even if it's just one, little thing. There's so much we don't see . . . Your post made me think of that.

Don't know if that makes sense . . .

Libby Koponen said...

And I think "different" is a very subjective some people, Jane Austen's books might all seem the same. To people who love her and her work, each is VERY different ( Pride and Prejudice is NOT at all like Persuasion!).

Maybe it has to do with depth: the more deeply you get into something, the more each individual painting or book varies?

ANyway, I'm with everyone else who has commented: dig deep, stay constant!

--though this isn't true of my own novel writing because I AM sick of writing about myself and have exhausted that topic! Now it's more interesting to either make things up or write nonfiction about other people I admire.

Agyw said...

I think most people don't understand the basis for an artist's work. Though we all hope for recognition from others and perhaps a livelihood, I think it's all internally driven. As long as there's some aspect left to explore, something else to be said, or something we feel we didn't quite get "right", we'll work at what fascinates us like a shiny piece of paper or a healing scab.

Being a bit schizoid, I have a number of styles, though I think there's a certain cohesion about it all. The story determines the words and the marks. I guess it's also about the threads we choose to explore and express.

I don't see your work as having a sameness at all, Grace, though there is a theme to much of it. Though there may not be great swings in visual architecture, I've also seen a progression of your work. I also see your work withstanding the test of time. Where some are definitely a product of their time or the sensibility, yours like the beautiful colors you use has an acuity that will translate no matter where or when it resides.