How often do we change our art, style or process? Is it better for artists to cultivate variety or consistency? Galleries tend to encourage artists to keep creating the same thing (that sells) over and over again. While artists, in general, like variety to stay motivated and inspired.

There are two schools of thought here. The first is consistency. Consistency in our work allows us to keep experimenting on one theme and to go deeper. Chuck Close is my favorite role model for working an entire lifetime on one theme – close up portraits. The span he covers with this one main theme is incredible. Click on this wikipedia link for more on him and his work.

Variety, however, is an important ingredient in our work, helping to keep our ideas fresh (see my previous post July 22, 2010 “Keeping Your Ideas Fresh”) and other important aspects of being an artist. If we are so consistent that our work is repetitive, we do not grow as artists and the work will eventually weaken. Yet, when we are so insistent on variety – the “never repeat yourself” syndrome, then we may flit around from style to style and never allow ourselves to take a concept deeper, to a more personal level, and to a more meaningful one .

The answer is always that tricky term “balance”, and the key to successful personal balancing is paying attention to how we feel. As our needs change, our feelings will let us know. Sometimes we may need to allow variety and experimentation to take us out of a rut, and re-energize our work. At other times we may hit on something that really gets us excited. These are the times to stretch 10-15 canvases all at once and create a series to see how far we can take the one idea.

Here is an interesting take on our ability for variety, taken from a quote from Robert Anton Wilson in his book “Prometheus Rising” (New Falcon Publications, 1983, p.125). Just prior to this, Wilson describes the human survival instincts that involve both consistency and variety;

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”