I first became concerned with the concept of “artistic voice” when I was in high school. It was high school when I first began exploring poetry and other art forms independently en force. This was the point at which I began experimenting regularly with my work, and exposing myself to artists I admired.
As I encountered new artists, I realized that most – whether I loved them or loathed them – had distinctive, unique voices which could be recognized throughout their work. I also observed how each new artist I explored would in turn influence my own creations.
While this was helpful for me as a growing artist, I began to feel a bit concerned that I might lose my own voice in the process. I wondered, what does my voice sound like? Do I write true to my own voice? How do I ensure that my art is unique and meaningful? When will I know that I’ve found my voice?
I realized that I would need to work at cultivating that voice in order to write effective poetry. In the ten years since high school, I’ve wrestled, scraped, cajoled, bribed, tortured, taunted, and nurtured my creativity in order to extract and cultivate a true voice with which I can feel comfortable and confident.
What I’ve learned over the past ten years is this: just like children don’t come from the stork, an artist’s voice is not dropped off on the doorstep one night, all perfectly preformed and powdered in a tidy package with a bow on top.
When we romanticize our admired creators of days gone by, it’s easy to embrace a fairy tale that tells of a struggling artist who woke up one day with the magic formula to their own artistic greatness. Perhaps we want to believe that we can skip all the soul-searching, candle-at-both-ends-burning years (and the rest of our lives), and exchange them for a period of graceful waiting, our art quietly whispering its genius in our ear. I’m certain that there are artists in the world who come into themselves in that way – but I’m not one of them.
We find our voice over time. If you look back over the early works of an artist you admire, it’s possible to see the first echoes of what will become the foundation of their signature creations. If I review the last fifteen years of my writing, I can see the foundations of how I write today. I can also see that my art is in no way separate from the rest of my life.
If I had a time machine, I might want to punch forward and see how I would respond to these questions differently in 10, 20, even 50 years – but today, my answer is this: my artistic voice is still under construction. While I might know and use that voice clearly sometimes, over all I still feel that I have a lot of growth ahead to bring my work to a level that satisfies my own expectations.
Last week, I started writing down these ideas in order to share a post with you about artistic voice. But like the cliché analogy of the tapestry or sweater, I found that the more I picked at the subject of artistic voice, the more the whole darn thing unraveled. I’ve been swimming through pages of notes and ideas, and it’s just too much for me to truncate into a single blog post!
Coming up will be a brief series of posts addressing the following question:
How do we as artists cultivate our artistic voice?
There is no single way for an artist to approach this process. Please feel welcome to share thoughts, experiences, and/or ask questions as we explore this topic!