Ever scrolled through Instagram, Behance, or Flickr, stumbled upon a creative whose work you desire to emulate, then wondered why your own style is not as distinctive or extraordinary? Most creatives spend their entire career trying to find this means to achieve a consistent style to be remembered for. Look at famed creatives like Dieter Rams or Henri-Cartier Bresson and their works are easily identifiable among others because their final products bare similar characteristics. Bresson is known for his black and white ‘distinctive moment’ styled street photography and Rams for his minimal and functionalist approach to design. We look to these creatives for inspiration but often through the lens of their creations rather than their process. In this way, we cultivate a view of style as this static and consistent production of similar deliverables. In other words, style becomes an end rather than a means. Using this theory, one works his/her life to achieve a certain level of consistency in their outputs, sticks to it, then reaps the rewards of their creations. But this simply isn’t this case. In fact, it’s yet another over-idealization which comes about as one learns and develops in an art.
As a budding photographer, I envied people who had found their “style,” and aesthetic. When I started photography, my process was plagued with exploration, trying new things, exploring new looks, angles, and compositions that intrigued me (which at the time was only a small step to achieving my own “look”). Accomplishing a “style” was my end goal and it wasn’t until later that I realized that style has much more to do with my own way of thinking than achieving similar outcomes. In my head, stylistic consistency was symbolic of perfection, of having achieved a level of confidence in one’s work where no further exploration was necessary. From my perspective, a professional designer or photographer with a distinguished style didn’t fumble about considering what the end product would look like, instead, he/she instinctively knew and simply executed.
Often its the final products of influential people that are seen first, rather than their process or workflow. We don’t see their development and where they’ve come from. We see what it is they’ve done, the consistency they have produced, and assume that their style must, therefore, be the result of having found the solutions of which they are most proud. In my naive idealization, exploration didn’t cross the mind of these people because they’d tried everything and instinctively knew what features best suited their desired outcome.
What style is and isn’t
I’m not the first and I won’t be the last but hopefully, my point is one that sticks with you now. A style isn’t perfection. A style isn’t a finalized and perfect version of yourself and your productions. A style is not an end but rather, style is a means.
What I mean is, style is not representative of the final product. A style is representative of the process it takes to develop that final product. Style shouldn’t be static. It should be constantly changing and seeking betterment.
Think like this. Don Norman says in his book, The Design Of Everyday Things,
“People don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.”
In this context, he is discussing getting to the root of desire, the true end goal. Accomplishing a style is often times significant to people because they feel this is the point at which they have reached satisfaction with themselves and their work. So then style itself is not truly the desire. Instead, it is to be content with one’s own work. There is no clear process to which this is achieved nor is there a clear indication of when the journey ends. Self-betterment is the best to achieve this fulfillment so then, why not continue to explore and try new things to establish those characteristics that bring about incremental and positive growth? Why not come to love the process rather than hoping for the best with the outcome? Change the process and the outcome is bound to be different.
Street photographer, Erick Kim (who manages a great website) compares this process to a tree. In his metaphor he mentions that a tree is always in movement. Its roots are expanding deeper into the ground and its branches constantly growing outwards and upwards with the end goal of being stronger. So too should be the creative and his/her process. In the idealized version, style imagines perfection and satisfaction but, you should never be satisfied. Don’t seek to be in a final state. Instead, seek to be a better version of yourself. People are quick to point out that they are “only human” (and therefore imperfect) in times of fault or error but easy to forget the same knowledge when reflecting on themselves. If one can never be perfect then, there is always room to become better, to grow.
So too is the creative process. Refine, refine, refine, and when you’re done refining, refine some more. Seek to explore new methods. Challenge yourself to think in new ways, associate different topics to one another. Ask questions that have yet to be asked. People are dynamic and so too should your process be (seeking perfection but never truly achieving a state of completion). Industrial design methodology teaches to fail often and early. By exploring as many options as possible one begins to understand what will and won’t work.
The end goal is not finding perfect satisfaction. It will never come. There will always be something more that you will desire. Such is the human condition. Instead, seek to explore new methods and determine what actions bring you joy and what doesn’t (similar to being an seeking to be an individual, another topic Vegvisir Lifestyle has covered).
Consistency Is Boredom
Think back to when you first started your creative field. The sky was the limit and there was much to learn. You could try anything with no limits beyond your own creative capacity. Each project you took on produced a remarkable excitement to see the results of the end product. So let’s say you accomplish a stylized product and you begin to stick to this style and create works that bare the same resemblance. Clients will see your work, recognize the consistency of your outcomes and expect a product, painting, or photograph which resembles the “style” you have established for yourself. No longer do you have creative freedom to produce anything your creativity can provide. Now your client has the expectation that your product will bare specific details characteristic of your established “style.” No longer is there a surprise to what the end product will look like following its completion.
Creating consistent end products pigeonholes yourself to the expectation that all of your products will be similar and as a result stifles your creativity and reduces your process to mere execution. No surprises and few new developments- just execution of a process which will result in a similar final product. The exploration factor which once interested you in the field has now all but disappeared leaving you with only constant repetition.
If you’re like me, you entered your creative field because there was much to learn. It was interesting because every creative act brought about new experiences and new knowledge (after all that’s what it means to be an adventurer). Why subject yourself to boredom? Why lose that curiosity by constraining yourself into a need to consistently produce a similar product? If style is your process rather than your end, then you reserve the freedom to explore, to keep learning, but most importantly, to never lose interest in your field.
How To Use This Insight
There has been much mentioned on the view of style but what’s much more important is putting it into practice. Viewing the acquisition of style as the process means exploring, learning, but most importantly, keeping your interest.
Try New Methods
Whether you’re interested in photography, design, or any other creative field, you have a process in which you are accustomed to. You have things that you do intuitively. Question these things, perhaps there is room for improvement. As an industrial designer, I tend to sketch out all of my ideas until it becomes absolutely necessary to make the product or idea tangible. During a recent project (tasked with the redesign of the Langstroth beehive to eliminate heavy lifting) I found myself stuck on a single detail, the supporting mechanisms for a drawer-like system. Ordinarily, I would have continued to sketch out the solutions, choose one, then begin to make a low fidelity model later once the detail was decided, however, at this point I decided that perhaps it might be better to visualize the solutions in a different manner. As a result, I stopped my sketches (by the instruction of my professor) and began to iterate the detail using fairly malleable copper rods. The insights that this stage in the process yielded opened my eyes to the limitations of sketching alone and revealed that in some situations it is better to make a physical mockup than to rely solely on perspective drawings. I would never have achieved this insight had I not questioned this stage in my process and implemented a new method than what which I was comfortable with. This was abundantly apparent in the outcome of the project as it yielded a clever and simple solution to the problem I was facing. The takeaway here is this: challenge steps in your process that may be intuitive and try supplementing them with different methods that may accomplish the same goal.
Create New Limitations
Similar to making changes to your process, you can also spend time taking on new projects or challenges. There are a great deal of example photography projects online on any number of websites (like this one). Recently I challenged myself to use only an aperture of f/5 on my camera. As a result, many of the locations and projects I’ve taken on have started to look different than they would have if I had the utter creative freedom to do as I pleased. Creativity comes within limitations. Contrary to popular belief the ability to choose from an infinite number of options leads to the use the ones people are most comfortable using. Placing limitations eliminates the ability to retreat to your comfort zone and forces you to come up with creative solutions for problems you may have otherwise solved differently in the past.
Work With Someone New
Collaborations yield the opportunity to gain insights into both your strengths and those of others. Being with new collaborators gives you the opportunity to gain insight into the process of others. What’s intuitive to one person may not be so for another. In my recent interview with Christin Garcia, we took a walk through a Piedmont Park in Atlanta. As we photographed the surrounding area he mentioned to me that one of the ways he gets a smile from his subjects is by using dad jokes. He mentioned that true happiness is shown with your eyes and that through his jokes he is able to briefly entice that state in those that he photographs. Id never thought about it this way and added to my arsenal of methods.
As you begin to work with new people you have the ability to learn what methods they use to compare them to your own. This is yet another method of exposure to new ideas. While you’re collaborating, question people. Ask why it is they are doing what they are doing. Explaining something aloud often makes one consider factors he/she may have otherwise not done without thought because its what they’re used to.
As you begin to see style as your process rather than the outcome, you will begin to understand just how much there is to learn. Settling on one outcome limits your possibility to grow. Don’t seek a determined end. Seek new challenges. Seek development. And finally, seek to determine how your interests can grow. Avoid boredom through development. See your style as your process and put effort into its perfection with the knowledge that it will never truly reach a final state. You don’t know what you don’t know and by exploring new perspectives you gain insights into areas you may not have even known existed. Exploring Vegvisir Lifestyle is one of those methods. We feature the perspectives of other creatives from around the world in order to show individuals like you that, despite sharing the same field of work, there are so many ways to approach it. Take some time to explore the site. You may just find a new idea.
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The Vegvisir Lifestyle
Vegvisir Lifestyle is a creative commons designed by Myroslava Obodovska and Nico Hitson with the purpose of showcasing the worldviews of individual creatives. We focus on how individual philosophies and geographic communities shape creative works from around the world then, bring them to you to show that despite working in similar fields, each creative brings forth a unique worldview to share with the world around them.