Have something to say: Find your artist’s voice.

Find your artist’s voice. This is part of our Visual Diary Series on Youtube. The Visual Diary Series aim to help you develop your own personal style and message as an artist. Be sure to check it out.

I believe that art changes the world. Art changes perceptions.  It changes people and people change the world. 

One of my favourite movies is the 2018 film called a Star is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. There is a specific scene in which Jack and Ally sit in a bar and talk after they just met. He guides her into becoming a musical superstar and says to her 

“Look talent comes everywhere.  Everybody’s talented.  Everybody in this bar is talented in one thing or another, but having something to say AND a way to say it so people listen to it – that’s a whole other bag. Unless you get out there and you try to do it you’ll never know.  

There’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people want to hear it”   

Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born Movie

And this sentence just stuck with me. 

“You gotta have something to say.”  This leads me to the critical question: How do you know what you would like to say as an artist? 

Finding your artist's voice

Well, it isn’t just going to jump out at you immediately. You have to do the work. You have to develop your artist’s message with fear and trembling. You need to make time and create space in your mind. Sit down, think, research, brainstorm, answer the hard questions, cut and paste, create mood boards, connect with others, and hash out your ideas. 

Here are three tools to help you find your artist’s voice. 

  1. A visual diary 
  2. Worksheets to get to know yourself
  3. A summary of global issues 

3 Tools to find your voice

1. A Visual Diary 

A visual diary is by far the preferred tool for most artists. As artists, we gather all our information, visual research, ideas, text and books we have read and place it all into our Visual Diaries. We wrestle with the problem. We flesh it out. We propose a visual solution. We try to depict the problem. Once we know how to depict the issue and clarify our message, it translates into an actual artwork. 

So a visual diary in short is:  problem – research and exploration – solution.  This video is a part of my series on creating and developing your visual diary. I’ll show you how to approach a visual diary and do it step by step, so be sure to watch all the other videos in this series. 

Finding your artist's voice. flow chart

2. Worksheets to get to know yourself

It is vital to truly understand yourself to know what you want to say as an artist. It will help if you dig a little deeper into your personality type, values, dreams, desires and thoughts behind your emotions. 

You can start by asking yourself these questions.

  • What causes you to feel something like worry, anger, despair, excitement, and passion? What triggers your emotions? 
  • What are the things you hear over and over in conversations? What are you tuning into? 
  • What do you value most in life? What do you spend the most time on? 
  • What are some repetitive themes or symbols in your life? 
  • What do you often hear on the news that piques your interest? 

How to get to know yourself better checklist: 

  1. Determine your values.
  2. Identify your personality type. 
  3. Identify and develop your personal metaphor.
  4. Discover your strengths and weaknesses. 
  5. Write your life’s purpose statement.
  6. Strategic Artist Road Map 

At the beginning of Andy Warhol’s career, he didn’t know what to paint. All his other friends started exhibiting in galleries and building their fine art careers. Andy felt despondent. He was a commercial artist at the time and not featured in galleries. 

A friend came up to Andy and said “I  coan help you, but it will cost you.” She told him if he paid her, she would tell him what to paint. Andy was reluctant to give her the money. However, his curiosity got the better of him. So he paid her. And then she said: “Paint what you love, Andy. You Love money, so paint money!” And he did. That kickstarted his fine art career.  

So it’s easy to find your artist’s voice; just ask yourself what you love. Well, it’s not quite simple; I believe it to be a bit more complex. 

As an art student, I experimented, flipping from style to style and trying new things all the time. It was great and developed my skills and craftsmanship. The problem was that I didn’t really know anymore what was truly me. What was Lillian’s unique style?  One day, whilst painting a super-realism piece of art, a friend remarked, “Really great technique, but it’s not very you.” At first I was offended and shocked, but then the penny dropped.

This style was beautiful, but it wasn’t me. I am a loud, bubbly, the life of the party, always connecting with people, can-get-through-any-situation-kinda-of-person. I realised my art needed to reflect this. I had finally discovered that where personality, skills and values meet, there, in that sweet centre, hides the voice of your true artist. If I stick with that, I will always be honest and find my unique style.  

If you need more help in developing your artist’s voice, I have developed an excellent worksheet pack to help you. It focuses on discerning what your values indeed are and how to discover your visual metaphor or symbol. 

To purchase these worksheets, visit our TpT Store. The link is in the description below. 

3. A summary of global issues 

If we look at art through the ages, we see many artists standing on the fringes, commenting on the state of the world and envisioning a different world and a better society. Artists that stood on the fringes and captured the spirit of their time still reverberate with us today. Their message is all about looking at the world around us – observing it: interpreting the world, commenting on it and adding some critical analysis to it.

To make life easy for you, I have summarised the current global issues in this video. So be sure to watch it. The video aims to spark your interest in a specific topic.

I want you to become passionate, angry and excited about your chosen topic. Remember you will be working on this topic for quite some time. So if you are not passionate enough about your message, you will lose steam. Your topic needs to trigger a strong emotion within you.

Now that we have looked into how you might find your voice… let’s look at the voices of some prominent artists. 

Voices from prominent artists

I have organized these artists’ voices according to various strong emotions. 

Passion and conviction:

Shepard Fairey is an American contemporary street artist, activist, illustrator, and founder of OBEY who emerged from the skateboarding scene. He is drawn to History and Politics. He’s fascinated by the power of Propaganda. How visual images could move the entire nation to believe in specific ideals. He was amazed that images could attract people’s hearts and ultimately change their minds.

He started wondering if Propaganda could be used for good. He uses Communist Propaganda’s visual imagery to speak to the American Public.  This is ironic since America’s capitalist society has spent millions of dollars fighting Communism beliefs. This juxtaposition makes Shepard Fairey’s art so visually layered, complex and recognisable. He believes that street art breaks through the clutter of the urban environment and makes people stop, observe and think. 

His art was particularly against President Bush. His Obama Hope poster propelled him into international fame. This world recognition has also caused Shepard Fairey to focus on more global issues and not just issues about American Politics. These included Burma’s fight for democracy, Terrorist attacks in France, the arrest of Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei and most recently, the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Anger and Hope: 

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. He has been called the most dangerous artist in the world. It is because Ai Weiwei is passionate about human rights and openly critical of the Chinese Government. He has investigated the Chinese Government’s corruption and lies and spoken about them openly. The Chinese Government doesn’t like that one bit. His political outspokenness has triggered various forms of harassment from the Chinese Government. Ai Weiwei and his art are loved by the world but hated by his country’s Government. Ai Weiwei no longer lives in China. His art now focuses on various global issues. 

Appreciation of Beauty:

An artwork doesn’t always have to have a bold message and statement. Many artists have commented on the subtle beauty of life. Whenever something looks beautiful, we have a natural impulse to want to capture and preserve it. That worries some serious art critiques. They wonder if people are ignorant of life’s troubles and severe issues. But if we dwell too much on the negative, we are in danger of slipping into depression. We also need beauty, hope and joy. Various famous artworks are simply about capturing beauty.  

One key idea behind Andy Warhol’s art was to find beauty in the mundane things of life. By repetitively painting Soup Cans and placing them on a wall, he has helped us see their beauty. Suddenly we notice their elegant labels and bold forms. Turner confronted us with the beauty of a storm. Albrecht Durer made us look at the elegance and detail of grass. Van Gogh reminds us of the beauty of dying sunflowers. 

Anxiety and Pain:  

Another purpose of art is to normalise pain. Some of the world’s greatest works of art have been loved for their capacity to make the pain inside us more publicly visible. Sombre art reminds us that pain is part of the human condition. An artist that is known for showing us her inner pain is Frida Khalo. Frida’s life has been filled with tragedy and disappointment.

First, a streetcar accident left her bed bound and stretched with painful contraptions to help her spine heal. A turbulent marriage with Diego Rivera followed, and later, the inability to have children. Her body was too damaged from the accident to carry a baby to full term. She lost various babies. Frida painted her physical pain, her emotional pain and her feelings of disappointment and loss.  

Outro – Sign-Off 

Have you found a topic you feel passionate about? What is your next step in finding your voice?  Let me know in the comments down below.  

I am artist Lillian Gray; I hope you enjoyed this video. Please give us a like and subscribe so my channel can produce valuable art videos. Until next time. 

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