Finding a Style: Something Old can be Something New

It’s really no secret—all artists have been inspired by something from a different time, artistic movement, or zeitgeist in history. Something that no one really told me is that an artist has to wear many hats. Outside of knowing their craft, an artist has to know marketing, branding, sometimes (depending on the assignment) an architect, or even a bit about science if the assignment calls for it. One of the hats that an artist has to wear is researcher. For young artists who are anxious about finding a style that is fresh and original, I suggest going back. Plenty of artists, current and old, draw from past artists or artistic movements.

Understand the Zeitgeist of your Time and of the Work you are borrowing From

When looking at works from the past, I always start by getting a general understanding of that time period’s zeitgeist. What do I mean when I say ‘zeitgeist?’ That’s a five-dollar word right there. The word ‘zeitgeist’ basically means the beliefs or popular ideas of a certain time. For example, the zeitgeist of the 1960’s, particularly in North America, was all about innovation and looking towards a brighter day among the stars. The space race was in full swing, and the spirit of adventure was alive in the American mindset. This had a huge impact on the popular culture. The ideal utopian societies had Mars colonies and/or spaceships to ride to school. However, with that being said, the zeitgeist of the time portrayed homosexuals as evil pedophiles, and anyone who wasn’t white was a second-class citizen. There are plenty of works today that borrow stylistic elements from the 1960’s retro-futurism like Kim Possible, Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack, Up, The Incredibles, etc. However, they adjust the message to fit with the current century’s ideals, morals, and values. This is what keeps the art relevant and marketable to a modern-day audience.

It Doesn’t Have to be Just Visual Art

After doing a bit of research on the cultural ideals, find some artists that best reflect zeitgeist in their work. My best advice is to not only look at visual artists like illustrators but also authors, fashion designers, architects, etc. For instance, when I was looking at modernist art, I also took a moment to read a few poems from famous authors, look at designers, and study some buildings of the time period. The reason I recommend this is because all of these elements in one way or another embody an element of the zeitgeist and express it in their own way.

Make it Your Own

This is the hardest part of the process. What does “make it your own” mean? Well, you, as the artist, have your own background, values, and experience. When people are hiring your brand, they are really hiring you, and this will reflect in your style. For me, something that I love to draw is retro-futurism but with Asian heroes. In this case, I am taking an old genre that has been historically white in representation and adding my personal touch to it. This is what makes the style your own. Take a moment to reflect on what your personal values and background are and weave that into the art that you want to borrow from.

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