A methodical pursuit of style
Robert Genn

September 1, 2009



In 1947, the eclectic French author and theorist Raymond Queneau wrote a small 
classic called "Exercises in Style." It tells a simple fictional story over 
and over in 99 literary styles. Introducing writers to an almost mathematical 
formula for creating style, journalism and authorship hasn't been the same 
since. Queneau's demonstrated styles are loaded with fun. The concept may have 
benefits for visual artists.

I've always felt that style ought not to be forced, that it needs to evolve 
naturally, often simply by keeping an eye out for those pictorial elements and 
idiosyncratic touches that pop up in their own sweet time. Style, in my book, 
is the result of intuitive evolution or a byproduct of error, ignorance or 
handicap.

Queneau's implication is that one might simply adopt style, if only for the 
purpose of trying it out. Theoretically, if it feels good, one might run off 
with it. Here's how:

Take one of your standard works and try repeating it in a different style. 
Perhaps more than one style. You might have to look around a bit to see which 
styles appeal to you or are a challenging or logical transfer from yours. 

You might consider impressionism, realism, vorticism, conservative formalism, 
obscurantism, primitivism, or any other -ism that turns your crank. 

You'd also need to give some thought to softening, hardening, obfuscating, 
lining up, decoupling, going high key, low key, looser, tighter, into 
distorting, correcting, fiddling or wobbling off in all directions. 

Advanced artists may find their own well-honed styles make the exercise a 
difficult, troublesome one. On the other hand, a less advanced artist may find 
the exercise a shortcut to progress and a possible route to personal truth. If 
you think of style as a series of factoids that eventually conjure your 
personal reality, then maybe those factoids can be simply tried on like 
somebody's second-hand collection of hats. Leaning on someone else's effort is 
not exactly a new idea.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "Learning to learn is to know how to navigate in a forest of facts, ideas 
and theories, a proliferation of constantly changing items. Learning to learn 
is to know what to ignore but at the same time not rejecting innovation and 
research." (Raymond Queneau)

Esoterica: "Exercises in Style" tells the same story in a variety of forms 
including slang, poetry, rhetoric, narrative, word game, repartee, 
mathematics, abuse, mystery, epenthesis, haiku, logical analysis, sonnet and 
tactility. Each variation is also dependent on the differences between what is 
observed, spoken or omitted. One feels the presence of a known author in each 
rewrite. Transposing to visual art, one might ask what could be wrong with 
trying to contrive the world through the lenses of Cezanne, Picasso, Sorolla, 
Brangwyn, Sargent, Rockwell, Pollock or the young painter down the street. 
Would they mind?