How an artist/artisan/designer obtains their "style"

I am trying to remember a book or article I read a while back. I am using the wrongs words, so please forgive me.

The gist was, an artist/artisan/designer early in their practice does a lot of exploration until they find their “style”. And typically, they stay within the “style” until the end. On rare occasions, they “reinvent” themselves into a different “style”.

For example, Picasso and cubism. Yes, he played a bit with surrealism towards the end, but he was not the pioneer as he was with cubism.

Same with designers. A Newson looks like a Newson, Rashid looks like a Rashid, etc. You could argue it is “staying on brand”. I have even experienced it myself with my furniture design/fabrication. But I don’t have a brand. :slight_smile:

But I don’t remember who wrote this in a way that it isn’t the rambling gibberish that I wrote. Any help?

hmmm. Not ringing any bells but I’d love to give it a read if you find it!

Found it - Understanding the onset of hot streaks across artistic, cultural, and scientific careers | Nature Communications

It is a combination of exploration and exploitation. Once you can get to exploitation the risk of beginning new with exploration can seem to high and you are giving up on your current success. And the point of the article is that it can be applied to any creative field.

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Thanks for finding and sharing.

I think this makes a lot of sense. Even when applied to other creative pursuits. For example I’ve been struggling to learn guitar for years, but every time I muck about on it poorly my enjoyment is short lived as I think about how I could be doing a sketch or something else I’m actually good at, and so I feel like I’m “wasting my time” even though more time is what I need to improve… or maybe my mind works too much is esoteric opportunity cost calculations.

But apply that too other things like learning a new CAD platform, or exploring totally new solutions… it is one of the reasons I left footwear after almost 8 years at Nike. I felt like I had done my most innovative work in the first few years. As I progressed I learned so much more but I also started closing down entire possible sets of solutions because “it’s not done that way”. Again, maybe just me, but I found when I worked on different categories it helped me stay more personally engaged and open.

But it is hard to walk away from those time investments. I spent a good chunk of time getting good at Fusion 360. Gravity Sketch sent me a headset to learn their platform but I struggle with spending the time on it (back to the learning guitar thing)

Another interesting thing is expectation others put on you. The article mentions Jackson Pollock and how once he hit his hot streak he didn’t deviate… but also was the expectation of him by his gallery not to deviate once they had a sellable in demand product? If a company hires Karim Rashid would they expect something that largely looks like Karim’s past work? I saw an early cut of an extended interview with Ross Lovegrove last week that will go live in a few days I think where he talks about that expectation that people have of him to do these really organic shapes. I’ll post it when it goes live.

Taken together, these results suggest that neither exploration nor exploitation alone is associated with the hot streak dynamics; rather, it is the shift from exploration to exploitation that closely traces the onset of a hot streak. One plausible explanation is that exploration, as a risky, variance-enhancing strategy, increases one’s chances to stumble upon new, potentially groundbreaking ideas; the subsequent exploitation behavior allows the individual to focus, develop knowledge and capabilities in that focal area, and build out their discoveries further. Importantly, our findings suggest that both ingredients of exploration and exploitation seem necessary. This supports the notion that not all explorations are fruitful, and that exploitation in the absence of promising new ideas may not be as productive. On the other hand, the sequence of exploration followed by exploitation may facilitate the emergence of high-impact work by incorporating new insights into a focused agenda. The positioning of exploration before exploitation may therefore serve to expand an individual’s creative possibilities.

I really love this thought. It reminds me of something one of my mentors once said to me years back:

“in every project at some point we have switch from what it can be to what it will be” - Paul Bradley.

That always stuck with me.

From a 2021 R&T interview with Grant Larson, speaking of the Boxster design:

He told Road & Track that he began working on this car in earnest around 1991, though he has some sketches of a mid-engine roadster dated to 1990. But really, it was a car he’d spent his whole life to that point designing.

“Every designer has the same ‘handwriting,’ as they call it, which they carry throughout their whole life, and just update it gradually,” he says. A longtime fan of Porsche, Larson says his ‘handwriting’ was very much influenced by the brand.

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To me, I see that as an intrinsic versus an extrinsic need, although i will admit my cynicism could be at play.

While exploring, you are doing it for intrinsic needs. You are trying to figure it out because of this inner desire. Once you hit that gold and all of the material rewards, the carrot, extrinsic needs, takes over. Why would you give up success? People are not paying Rashid not to be Rashid. You may get trapped. Like the old joke of musicians playing “new” material only at a show.

Now it probably isn’t as black and white as I make it here. Van Gogh certainly didn’t have material success while alive, but he was a bit loopy too. I have fallen into exploitation with my furniture and it’s not like I am making bank on it, far from it. I mostly give stuff away to friends and family. But now that I have found a “style”, I am enjoying at least the accolades from friends & family. Nothing wrong with a carrot. :slight_smile:

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2 things here regarding this article…

  1. Design research leads to concept development, leads to product development, leads to production…duh!

It never surprises me when these Chicago interlopers try to frame how design works through the use of convoluted measurement methods. VGGNet, TensorFlow…really?

“Overall, these results may have implications for identifying and nurturing talents across a wide range of creative domains.”

Rather than look at a portfolio and discern for themselves the potential of a creative, they want a machine to do the discerning for them. Outsourcing the ability to discern good art from bad art to a machine defeats the purpose of buying talented outputs imo.

  1. Those from collective cultures will never match the unique style of those from individual cultures who develop their craft. Identifying derivatives from a work of art in order to make aesthetic and economic decisions may have reached market saturation with Dalle-E, Stable Diffusion, Mid-Journey et al.

Machine learning has its place mind you, it is great at organizing bits of data from the past. Kind of like left overs…

Donald Schön has additional thoughts about this with his theories on reflective practice in design.

Many have tried to do this kind of algo experiment in the Securities markets. No one has found a solution yet…

I know I am going to regret this, but what is a “Chicago interloper”?

Also, why is it surprising to you that a scientist wants to take a quantitative approach in an analysis and why would you compare it to a qualitative approach? You understand the difference between apples and oranges, correct?

Chicago interloper = Meddlesome academic researchers from Northwestern University who waste US Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant funding. Funding that rely on statistical modeling, never doing any interviews or scanning of contemporary creatives’ neural pathways is poorly allocated resource. Scanning digitized images, scripts and papers from google is not empirical qualitative science imo.

Why is it surprising you ask? It “never surprises me”… :wink:

Your discrediting of their methodology sums to “I don’t like it”. Which is fine and good, but it certainly not a robust argument to invalidate it. I haven’t done a deep dive into the actual image analysis, and I doubt you have either, but I’m happy to listen to an actual reason why it can’t be used to track a creative’s “style” over time. For example, how long was Picasso exploring versus exploiting cubism. It is merely used as a time stamp. It is not intended as any conclusion. Why is that method invalid? And use of computer analysis allows the tracking of 800K images, which probably creates a p value < 0.005. Something that can’t be done by a human.

Also, I am unsure about your reference to Donald Schon and the link you provided. It is just a rehash of Dewey (one of my favorites) and only points to an origin story of a creative. It really has nothing to do with the subject of this thread. And the link you provided calls Schon’s theory “weak and fuzzy”. So a couple questions there. Why did you bring it up? And do you advocate Schon or do you think of it as weak and fuzzy?

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I saw a recent interview on a silly morning show (must have been in a hotel) with Ray Parker Jr. The hosts asked him, “do you ever get tired of performing ‘Ghostbusters’?”
To which he replied, “do you ever get tired of having a winning lottery ticket?”

Sing away, Ray!
(Not the same as design style but a nice anecdote anyway.)

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@iab this paper also reminds me of EVH… I’m sure he did a lot of exploration and then settled into exploitation of his hard won techniques and signature style:

Its also a matter of MARKET ACCEPTANCE.

I’m sure a lot of artisans DO explore new styles.

But if nobody accepts those new styles you go HUNGRY.

So I guess its safer to create a SIGNATURE LOOK for your work and maintain it until it falls out of favour.

Very sad situation, but the general public does not necessarily REWARD an artisan trying something new.

Unless the new direction is BRILLIANT of course.

There have been artists like film directors in the past who tried new experimental directions, and were critically panned and dropped off the radar after that.

Some people are naturally born risk takers.

Others play it SAFE.