Thursday, December 23, 2021

Should An Artist Pursue a Single Style?

John Everett Millais, Glen Birnam, 1891

Should an artist try to develop a unique, distinctive style or brand look? Not according to the Victorian painter John Everett Millais (British, 1829-1896). 

John Everett Millais, The Mistletoe Gatherer

In his 1888 essay Thoughts on our Art of Today, he said: "A varied manner must be cultivated. I believe that however admirably he may paint in a certain method, or however perfectly he may render a certain class of subject, the artist should not be content to adhere to a speciality of manner or method. A fine style is good, but it is not everything—it is not absolutely necessary." 

From John Everett Millais Thoughts on our Art of Today 


Joel Fletcher said...

The two examples of Millais art shown here are excellent, but have sort of a generic look of the time period. However his paintings from his "Pre-Raphaelite" period definitely have a recognizable style all his own.

Courbet said...

I find this interesting! And thank you for posting. However, I think this question of 'style' is far more appropriate for todays artists and applying the thoughts of a 19th century artist to a subject that has changed so dramatically in the last 150 yrs is dangerous.

Would we ask Wagner about todays music? Granted it would be an interesting convo- but I am not sure his opinion on metal, hip hop or pop music would be very informed.

Being a visual artist back then was more of a matter of genera it seems, I am sure they used 'style' in a far more narrow sense than it's used today.

Unknown said...

If a certain "Style" develops on its own accord because of the idiosyncrasies of an individual artist, I don't see much issue with that personally. But a deliberate effort to develop a style to "stand out" from the crowd is what bugs me.

And even more so, the all too accepted mentality that in an absence of a recognizable style, an artist is deemed lacking a "Voice" is even more perplexing to me.

Some artistic voices are too subtle to alarm the general public I guess.

James Gurney said...

Thanks everybody! Interesting comments. For context it might be worth noting that Millais's "style" went through an evolution within the narrow limits of Victorian realism. His earlier work, such as "Ophelia" was, as Joel suggested, more in the super-detailed Pre-Raphaelite vein. When his paintings became slightly broader or more painterly (though still very tight by today's standards), Ruskin called it a 'catastrophe.' Millais won back his reputation, and this essay must be reflecting on all that water under the bridge.