Finding your voice
 
by Robert Genn

July 23, 2010

Dear Rodney,Recently, Judith Meeks of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, wrote, "I'll soon be chairing a 
panel discussion called 'Finding Your Voice.' In your understanding, how do we 
translate our life experiences into our paintings and express who we really are? We 
may have good work habits, but how do we become clear about what we want to say? 
And how much can be done with a conscious plan?"

Thanks, Judith. This is one of those sticky head-scratchers that can cause the 
loss of sleep. First off, and contrary to what I've said before, plans can 
actually derail the voice-finding process. Further, you have to know what you mean 
by "voice." Voice in style is different than voice in cause. Ideally, style 
develops over time. Cause is based on attitude and issue. With growth and 
development, causes change. A predetermined voice shackles creativity. To find 
your very own voice, I think you need to have a few things going for you:

You need to make stuff. Artists who put in regular working hours find their voice. 
Work itself generates clarity and direction. It's like invention--one thing leads 
to another. One must only lurk for voice. Unfortunately, along the way, most drop 
the ball. Like the dilettante inventor of the soft drink "6-up," they just don't 
stick around long enough.

You need hunger. It can be the hunger for knowledge or for self-knowledge. It can 
be the desire to find an antidote for some injustice or human miscalculation. 
Perhaps you need some inexplicable, deep-seated compulsion to keep moving forward.

You need curiosity. Wondering how things will turn out is more powerful than having 
a pretty good idea beforehand. Wondering if you can do it gives you reason to try. 
Curiosity is the main juice of "ego-force" that keeps you keeping on. 

You need joy. You need to feel joy in yourself and you need to feel you're giving 
it to others. As Winston Churchill said, "You may do as you like, but you also 
have to like what you do." A disliked job is soon abandoned.

I'm writing you from a remote anchorage off Grenville Channel on the West Coast of 
British Columbia. I'm thinking human nature is a mighty puzzle. Every time I go 
onto one of these islands looking for something to paint, I ask myself the old 
"What's my voice?" question. One thing for sure, if I go ashore knowing what my 
voice is, it will be a weak squawk when I get to the spot.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "Why this hunger to write--I always ask myself--if not the longing to discover 
what I believe? The pen divines my thoughts." (David Conover in "One Man's 
Island.")

Esoterica: "What's my voice?" has to be asked by each individual artist. 
Committee-free, the artist needs to develop her voice as if on an island. To be a 
voice is to be a different voice, set apart, unique. How to find it? Go to your 
island, put in long hours, fall in love with process--your voice will come out of 
your work.