This post is in direct response to one of my followers, who wanted my advice in determining what she should paint. If we think about this logically, subject matter comes down to personal preference that, in reality, is dictated by what the artist wants to say, or what the artist wants to portray.
No one can tell you what moves you or what is important to you but you. So that’s something you have to find on your own, but I hope to give you some of my own philosophy to help you tackle this question.
The first point I’d like to make is that if you’re not yet a full-time professional artist, then use this time to research and experiment with different media, different subjects and different styles. This is the time to develop your style and take chances. Go down roads you might not have the luxury to follow if you’re a professional artist and in the midst of making a living. Believe me, once you’re in the thick of paying the bills through sales of your art, the schedules, deadlines, and demands get in your way.
So don’t get so wrapped up in finding the perfect subject that will make you a successful artist. Instead, enjoy the latitude you have right now. It’s a gift, and use it wisely. Experiment. You might find you’re comfortable with an avenue you might never have otherwise considered.
Generally, I think it’s a good idea to begin your search for your potential passion by taking note of what other paintings move you. Study other artists, go to museums, and look at pieces that touch your soul.
If something is keeping you up at night, entertain going down that artistic road. Ask yourself---why am I drawn to this artist? This style? This subject? This is where you have to focus and determine what excites you and how to incorporate it into your own work and how to develop your own style.
I now give you a mild warning: the art market, the galleries, and sometimes collectors will do their best to put you in a box. The galleries want to box you into what’s selling. Their motives will be apparent and crystal clear. “We want big paintings” or “We want seascapes.” Before they invest in your work, the collector wants to know you’ve settled on your “star”, so to speak, and won’t be bouncing around genres. All these different parameters come into play and they are things that effect what you paint.
But if you stay true to yourself and pursue your own artistic passion and your own artistic vision, that honesty will come through to a collector. They can see it and feel it.
If you’re trying to do something that’s not true to yourself, the public will pick you off a mile away.
At any one show, I may have figurative cowboy paintings, or dog and horse portraits, and occasionally a bird study, still life, or fly-fishing piece. These are all subject matters that interest me and I enjoy painting.
I paint these different subjects because they move me and I purposefully want to keep myself out of any pre-conceived box. And this philosophy has never been an issue with a gallery or a collector, because they can tell this is something that is important to me. My passion is evident, no matter what the subject. People can see it’s a part of who I am.
As a final thought, I’m going to reiterate something I’ve said before. Inexperienced artists sometimes put discovering their passion ahead of learning their skills.
I know you’re tired of hearing this, but I can’t stress it enough. Learn your skills first, so that you can paint anything you want and say anything you want through your paintings, and be satisfied with the results. Then you can experiment with different subjects matter to determine what touches your soul.
Sometimes artists get stuck painting a particular subject because their inferior skill level won’t allow them to move beyond it. If you develop good fundamental skills, you can paint anything you want, and discovering your passion will only be limited by your imagination.
Jeannette, I hope this helps answer your question.
All content and images © Mark Kohler Studio.