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?