Some would argue that art itself defies categorization. Artwork is intensely personal and many artists hesitate to be grouped with other artists, whether because of aesthetics or the perception that doing so makes it easier to pigeonhole one’s work. The question: “what type of artist are you?” strikes fear into many artists’ hearts.
Categorization, however, is a method the human mind uses to make sense of the world. The art market, for better or worse, relies on categories and defining yourself as an artist can boost your career. At the end of the day, do you want people interested in the aesthetics or topics you address to find & love your art?
Especially if you are a budding artist still finding your way in the marketplace, being specific can connect you with buyers by clarifying what exactly you have to offer. It may even help refine your style and your strategy for building your brand.
Writer and cartoonist Scott McCloud has drawn four types of artists according to the goals they strive to achieve through their work.
A Formalist is interested in examining the boundaries of a particular art form. They stretch and explore the limits of a medium or genre, stress-testing it, turning it inside-out, and pushing it into bold and untried directions. These artists exist on the cutting edge and outside of formal restrictions. Formalists are trailblazers, tinkerers, and innovators pushing limits toward the deeper meaning of art itself.
A Classicist is an artist who focuses on beauty, craftsmanship, and mastery. They prioritize the aesthetic experience of art over all else, its ability to affect an audience and deliver an emotional experience. For a Classicists, perfecting the craft is what produces the most effective form of their art.
An Animist’s goal is to convey a message as directly as possible. The content of the art, the story it tells, is the what determines how the work is crafted.
An Iconoclast is interested in portraying the experience of life in as raw and authentic a way possible. They see art’s contribution as holding a mirror to reality and exposing its often hard and painful truths. They do not pander, comfort, or sugarcoat. Artistic integrity is critical. Things like beauty, craft, and narrative are secondary to the pursuit of reflecting true human emotion.
These are far from the only different artistic styles or approaches, but they do help us understand where we’re coming from. Labeling your artistic style may feel like denigrating your art’s potential, but exploring classification can offer important self-reflection, a crucial step for artists looking to professionalize their work.
Reading artist interviews is another worthwhile way to think about where you fit in or give you ideas of curatorial spaces that might favor your aesthetic.
It all comes down to what you want to do and how you want to spend your time. That doesn’t mean having a strategy for connecting with people who love your art is some type of compromise. Taking some time to think about your goals as an artist may be just the thought experiment you need to connect with the next great opportunity.
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