Finding a voice
The execution of anything vaguely artistic - writing, painting, photography, anything - is about the most subjective pursuit one can follow. What is loved by one can be derided by another, misunderstood, misappropriated into a voice far removed from the artists, or overlooked altogether. I recall an anecdote that Norman Rockwell, an artist whose work I love without exception, was shunned by the artistic world when he was painting, considered a commercial artist without any real voice. I’m not sure of the truth in it, but on a personal level I admire his work immensely, not only for it’s execution but for it’s voice.
I am lucky enough to spend my day to day involved in an art that I love and have been chipping away at for half my life - tailoring and the men’s wardrobe. The last 5 years or so has also given me a chance to develop a new hobby and means of artistic expression in photography. I profess no real skill in that, but I have enjoyed the improvements I have seen in my work these last few years, however small, or however low the original baseline may have been.
Where I struggle, and perhaps it’s is a lack of distance or perspective, is in finding a voice of my own. It is such an intangible thing, that to be able to label it or immediately see it’s characteristics feels beyond my grasp. I don’t have the bold sweeping flourishes in what I do that many great artists have, that make them unique. I borrow heavily from all those that inspire me. In writing I admire most Raymond Carver for his simple, and simply gut wrenching ability to convey emotion with an economy of words. But I feel that I fumble around at wisps of an idea, never quite defining the emotion in a way that a reader can connect with in a truly visceral way. I ramble, as I am doing here.
In a wardrobe, I feel that my inspirations are too clear, to the point of plagiarism. Fred Astaire and Jimmy Stewart on a cold day. I like the drape and elegance of both. The sobriety of Mr Stewart, his decidedly English approach to cloth. Fred Astaire’s playfulness and individuality, a lack of pretension in wearing clothing from it’s most formal to its most casual. But as a big man, I feel as clumsy with my clothing as I do with my words.
And in photography, my greatest inspiration isn’t a photographer at all, but rather Vermeer - the Dutch painter whose soft and round colours, the sobriety and solemnity of his subject, the heavily weighted black space in an image, the asymmetry, made for work that is immediately his. But with a camera, and 400 odd years of technical advancement, I still cannot capture images as evocative as those he painted.
So I struggle. I keep writing, I keep shooting, I keep getting dressed of a morning.
But one thing that sits at the back of my mind is my father’s advice on earning a true signature - write something. Then write it again, and again, and again. Through persistence, practice, repetition, eventually my signature will come to the fore. I hope as I keep working, the same can be said for a unique personal style in everything I do.
A great discourse in humility. Humility breeds greatness.