Vineesh Vijayan asks: Sir, I have noticed artists getting into certain ‘style’ of works. For example Subodh Gupta works with his utensils and that is his hallmark style. Is it necessary to have a ‘style?’ Or is it a curse? How does a young artist come to have his or her own style? Or how does he or she recognize that this or that is his style? Two years back I attended a camp in Chennai. Artists came and did whatever they do in their studios. Are the established artists afraid of experimenting with various styles? (Vineesh had asked me a question regarding Installation art. To see the answer please refer my previous blog)
This question has come to me in different forms while I go around teaching and lecturing on art. While the young artists strive for arriving at a unique style of their own, the established one continues with their styles. As Vineesh cited in his question, some people take style as a curse and for some others style is an inevitable and indelible mark of personality and genius of the artist. Looking at the history of art, especially that of the contemporary art, I would say that for most of the sensible artist, style is a point of realization and for many others style is a feasible spring board. Let me explain it.
There is a saying that man is the style. We could say it other way round also. Style is man. A man is recognized for his style; a woman too. At the same time, a style also could be a stand in for someone’s personality and genius. For example, when we see any work that has some kind of resemblance with the cubist style of paintings, we generally say that he is influenced by Picasso. Not that Georges Braque was a lesser figure in Cubism and lacked in his own style, thanks to the proliferation of the idea that cubist style is developed by Picasso and the unprecedented popularity of the images of his works all over the world make people think that cubism is all about the style of Picasso.
I do not say that style is a wrong thing; that’s why I say for many sensible artists, style is a point of realization. When an artist, whether he/she is academically educated or self taught, starts off his career, invariably he comes under the influence of someone. History and tradition makes their presence in the new generation of creative people, irrespective of their field of activities, during these initial influences. Influence is not a bad thing as far as a beginner is concerned. Influence of a particular artist or his style or many artists and their styles, help the artists to test their own creative genius and talent against the historical given. As they progress in their works, slowly they find out what they have been searching for all these years. In this sense, style becomes a path before it becomes a point of realization.
Once an artist arrives at that point, though the remnants of the early influences appear here and there as traces, then ideating through materials or methods becomes much easier and it would flow like water. An artist could react to any given situation and the point of realization persists and that leads to the organization of that artistic response to the given situation. This is what makes an artist’s style prominent. Subodh Gupta could utensils to respond to Hunger and wealth alike; that is not a problem. That does not mean that the artist does not have any other mediums or materials available at his disposal. It is not like that. The point of realization makes him or her feel that ‘this is it’. And ‘this’ is capable of addressing and ideating the artistic concerns.
This is not only applicable with the artists who work with physical objects or materials but also with all those artists who work with ideas, concepts and even virtual materials. That’s why if an artist recognizes his point of arrival as archiving, wherever he goes, his idea about that place would be related to archiving. If an artist goes to a country where industries have been closed down thanks to certain reasons, this artist could attempt either documenting the closed factories or documenting the lives of those people who were rendered jobless thanks to these closure of factories. If you look at any artist from any geographical location, you could see how artists going ahead in their creative careers with this awareness of the point of arrival.
(Very Hungry God by Subodh Gupta)
However the flipside of style lies in the demand that a work of art generates in the market. The market is a phenomenon that works through the generation and satisfaction of desire through commodity consumption and amassment of profit. This results into a different social dynamics that generates profit as well as desire. While profit has a lot to do with the actual exchange of commodities and wealth, the desire has a lot to do with the social hierarchies that include peer pressure amongst the rich. When some wealthy person has a work of an artist with a particular style and he keeps it as his price possession to further his wealth and position, his peer group people also desire for the same work or the works that look like that particular one. So there generates an artificial demand for a particular style of work and if the artist falls for it and keeps ‘producing’ that kind of work, there is a huge problem not only of aesthetics but also of ethics comes to take place.
Now, coming to the idea of style as a spring board: We see a set of artists who do not have much of a history in the field, suddenly throw some surprises for the art world with some extravagantly and extraordinarily stylized works. These artists are manufactured artists either by themselves or by a group of people who have vested interest on them or through them. They come up with certain style of work and their first work itself would have all the ‘possible stylistic statements’ which their last work would be having at some time in future. In my opinion, these manufactured artists do not stay in the scene for a long time. They will use their style as a spring board to make an initial leap and after a few experiments they would perish and go out of the scene even without leaving a trace. In that sense, a manufactured style is a short living phenomena.