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A few months back I was talking shop with another artist, and we got onto the subject of the qualities and elements that make a body of work distinctively recognizable as the creation of a Particular Artist, so that when you see that new work you know without a doubt who did it.

[watercolors/acrylics on paper, 11″ x 15″]

In the Blue Room

In the Blue Room

He’d used the word signature — and, dopey me, at the time I’d thought he actually meant the manner of signing one’s name to a newly finished work.

Yeah.  I shoulda had the wits to press him for clarification right then, considering he refers to the figures in his own works as ‘characters’ [a concept I totally dig], but I have this naive tendency to take things at face value.  As a consequence, I completely missed any nuances that might’ve been in his wording.

Hindsight is said to be 20/20 — but it takes some things longer to come into focus for me.  Wisdom needs to gestate, like a pearl accumulating its layers of nacre.  That, or I just need to pay closer attention.

So here I am, again pondering this thing he’d called signature.  For my own needs that word doesn’t quite work.  I don’t want to replace it with the word style — style can be shallow, a passing fancy tied to an era and its social politics, unforgivably dating it.  But ‘technique’ doesn’t fit, either — that’s the mechanical process of physically creating the art.

Okay, back to the idea of ‘characters’ instead of ‘figures’, approaching it all as narratology —

Maybe the word I’m looking for is ‘voice’ — like when a writer has a distinctive, recognizable way of stringing words together to get ideas across.  That kind of recognition is akin to being able to pick out a voice you know in a crowded and noisy restaurant — a personal blend of pitch, timbre, cadence and vocabulary, and sometimes unconscious poetry.

Along with having and developing my ‘voice’ as a visual artist, I need to ask myself :

What do I want to say?

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