Is it even possible to develop a unique style?
Like Thor’s hammer, it struck me today, we now live in world where billions of images are posted daily on the Internet. I don’t know why today was unique, but the preponderance of eye candy and visual stimulation, suddenly became overwhelming.
How can I, or anyone for that matter, stand out as an established visual artist? Is it even possible to develop a unique style?
Interestingly though, the more I scour the Internet for inspiration, the less inspired I become. Everything is starting to look the same from the 100 foot level, often too saturated, over sharpened, too perfect, unnatural or surreal and too similar.
It is a subtle trap. Our brains are wired up to notice difference and change. It is for this reason our eyes make constant micro-movements. If we could stare at something long enough without these micro-movements, it would eventually become invisible to us.
Cats and cobras for example don’t have eyes capable of movement. To see effectively, they must move their entire head. You can tell when a cats are hunting by how still they become. By being very still and staring in the same spot non-moving things become invisible to them and when something does move, they notice it instantly.
Snake charmers use this technique with cobras. The cobra slowly moves its head back and forth so as not to become blind to its environment. Snake charmers, by synchronizing their hand movements with the snake eventually make their hand invisible to the cobra. They can quickly reach out and grab the snake before it sees the hand coming.
We occasionally diminish the quality of an image because of this blindness. Here is how it happens.
We find an image we like and want to improve.
We start editing and like the changes.
We stick with the process too long and become blind to previous edits.
Feeling we haven’t tweaked things enough, we push the sliders a little more to see a change.
Repeat, wash, repeat again.
Pretty soon a once acceptable image is pushed into the category of overworked, unnatural, and dissonant with natural aesthetics. But we don’t see it. Instead, we sit back satisfied in admiration of our handy work.
However, after sharing our images we return to bask in the glow of social media likes, only to wonder why in the world did anyone give that disaster a thumbs up? We ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?”
Another contributing factor to this problem is the growing need for immediate gratification. We want that perfect image now. We want the world to see how talented we are now. We want our social media likes now!
So we live in a world where we have billions of images posted everyday. Some are stunning, many just suck, but all begin to blind us to our style. We become desensitized to saturation, sharpness, contrast, poor composition, and so on and push the sliders a little more.
I have found a number of ways to return to my personal aesthetic that you might find useful.
The first thing is to use the “before and after” slider, if available, or simply toggle back and forth between the original image and the edited one. It soon becomes very apparent when the edits have gone too far. Simply stepping away from an image for a while also breaks the pattern of more is better. Try resetting the image and starting over.
It is also important to focus on a personal vision for an image. Trying to develop a style based on pleasing others probably will lead to disappointment. Your creations may find popularity but leave you unsatisfied. Popularity is transient and fickle. Focus on your vision if you want to continually satisfy yourself and endure as an artist.
Kick the social media habit. I’ve read somewhere that brain studies have been done that show social media likes and acceptance affect the brain in ways similar to mood altering drugs. Ask yourself, if social media did not have “approval” buttons would you still participate?
Try this for a week. If you use Facebook or similar social media, post your images privately for at least a day, so no one can see them. If that sounds uncomfortable, maybe you are creating art to please someone else not you and need that immediate acceptance.
Finally, if you want real inspiration, seek it in your environment, not the Internet. Take a drive or a walk, search through a junk drawer or whatever. Find your inspiration in what you can create, right now, with the assets you have.