Should An Artist Be Consistent In Their Work?

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Well, originally, I was going to write an extremely cynical article about the whole idea of “personal branding” and about how brands are for body modification enthusiasts rather than artists. But I thought that I’d put most of my cynicism to one side, take a step back and look at this whole subject from a slightly more practical and apolitical perspective.

You see, all that “personal branding” really boils down to is the idea that an artist (or any independent creative person) should produce a consistent body of work and give off a rather consistent public identity and persona (possibly even with a well-designed logo or two). The logic behind this is that it makes an artist easier to remember and it means that people know what to expect from their work.

And, from a business standpoint, this does sort of make sense because it encourages fan loyalty by turning the artist into a reliable and predictable “thing” that people can quickly and easily identify and talk about, in the same way that – say – a famous brand of soft drink is widely recognised by people just from the shape of it’s bottle alone.

Plus, on a practical level, some of this stuff is going to happen whether you like it or not. If you’ve been making art for a while, then you’re going to end up developing a unique style (whether you want to or not), which means that your art will look distinctive and easily recognisable. This is all part of being an artist and it’s more than ok to feel proud of your style and treat it as part of your identity as an artist.

But, I think that there’s something of a slight gap between making your work consistent because you’re trying to create a “personal brand” and just making things that you love without setting out to be consistent, even if this often means that you end up creating consistent things.

By trying to become a consistent “brand”, you automatically limit both what you can express and what you can produce. You take some of the spontanaity and mystery out of the creative process and you will also inevitably end up both blocking off huge parts of your own imagination and resist trying new things just because they don’t “fit in” with your “brand”. This will inevitably affect the quality of what you produce.

For example, if you “brand” yourself as an artist who produces light, wholesome and uplifting art – then you can only publish this kind of art. If you’re in a dark mood and need to make something cathartic, then you can’t really post this online or sell it to your fans because it would damage your “brand”. It might be your best work, but you’re going to have to hide it and leave it unseen regardless.

If you, say, suddenly become extremely curious about painting nudes – then you’re going to have to keep these paintings private because, again, they would damage your oh-so-wholesome “brand”.

If you have controversial opinions about anything, then you probably won’t be able to express them alongside your art because it could break the “light, wholesome and uplifiting” public image that you’ve created for yourself. Not only that, it would also mean that if you become famous – you’d have to act like a drearily puritanical paragon of virtue and have no fun, because – say- getting wasted on absinthe and having a wild night out would damage your “brand”.

So, without knowing it, by actively trying to create a consistent “brand” for yourself, you’ve actually built an invisible prison for yourself. You’ve built your own little totalitarian dictatorship where Big Brother is always watching you. This isn’t worth doing for any amount of money.

But, on the other hand, if you just make what you love and don’t give a damn about consistency – then you actually get to be a real person. You get to explore and express as much of your imagination as you feel comfortable doing so. You get to make mistakes and learn from them and you get to understand yourself as an artist much better too.

You get to keep your art fresh by trying new and exciting things every once in a while and you will actually win more fans for the simple reasons that, one, you come across as a real and authentic person who people can relate to (rather than an unreachable embodiment of “perfection”) and, two, that you will make a wider range of stuff.

If you make a wider range of stuff, then you aren’t restricting yourself to people who only like one type of art. Yes, you won’t get as many fans who like all of your stuff but you will get a wider range of fans who, say, only like parts of your work.

As I hinted earlier, this isn’t always an “either/or” thing and you will probably end up being consistent sometimes whether you like it or not. And, I guess that having a small amount of “personal branding” isn’t always a bad thing – but you’ve just got to be careful that you don’t let it take control of you and dictate what you can and can’t produce or say.

———

Anyway, I hope this this was useful 🙂

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