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Identifying Your Artistic Strengths

September 1, 2010

orange abstract paintingAs artists, we see a lot of artwork. If you’re like me, you probably admire a range of styles. I periodically get a twinge of “I wish I could do that,” but in reality it’s not a subject I am drawn to. There’s nothing wrong with having many interests and experimenting with new techniques (in fact, I encourage it!), but identifying your artistic strengths can help keep you focused and lead to a more mature and developed art practice. It is also an important step in creating a body of work. Once you know your strengths, you can either use them to your advantage, or challenge them.

Let’s look at a couple ways to identify your strengths.

Artifact Experiment

I did this exercise in the last year of my BFA program and it was a huge eye opener.

Each person was asked to bring a selection of “artifacts” from our lives. We weren’t told what kind of artifacts or what they were for, just to pick 6-10 items from our lives.

* If you want to try this exercise, I suggest you think of your artifacts now, before you read about their purpose!

One by one, we shared out items and discussed what they had in common. It was amazing how each person’s artifacts had a common theme. One person’s items were all about her family. Another person’s were the same oatmeal colour. Another’s had to do with comfort.

I was one of the last to share and I remember panicking, thinking that I hadn’t understood the assignment. I couldn’t see any relation between my items, but when it was my turn, another student said, “it’s like little vignettes of your life.” And it was! The artifacts I chose reflected my linear, compartmentalized way of thinking.

With a little abstract thinking, we can apply these themes to an art practice. The family person might focus on ideas of relationships and connections. The oatmeal person has a colour scheme to work with and the comfort person could investigate ways to express softness and warmth.

For me, it translated into creating a whole image out of parts, fragments, of another image. Compartmentalize.

Overall Survey

Rather than looking at your life, this exercise looks at your art.

Go through all of your old work and select the most successful pieces, regardless of style and subject matter.

Again, we’re looking for patterns and themes. What is it that all or most of your best work has in common? You may need to see past the superficial subject matter and try to examine every possible facet of your art and the decisions you make.

When I did this with my own work, I was surprised at the similarities I found. I compared my old drawings of fantasy creatures, a selection of my favorite school assignments and more recent abstract paintings. Even though they appeared to be completely different, closer inspection revealed that they had colour palettes of the same intensity, a highly structured composition and quite often a reference to the grid.

compare art to identify strengths

For example, look at these two works: a coloured pencil drawing of a fairy and a constructed abstract painting. Opposites? Well, they both have the same intense oranges and lines that draw the eye to a central focus. Both embody (or attempt to embody) a feeling of suspension and weightlessness. And these are the things that intrigue me!

Final Thoughts

These exercises alone may not give you what you need to develop a body of work, but htey can provide you with a jumping off point by ientifying the things you have a deep interest in. By working with your identified strengths, you can begin to develop your ideas and your unique artistic language.


From → Art General, Painting

  1. Very interesting. I immediately got a feel for the “center” of my art. Not surprising, but quite illuminating. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Miranda,

    What an intriguing post. I’ve accumulated a lot of junk over the years, but I’m going to start referring to it as my artifacts– that sounds much better!! : )

    Wanted to say you have a lovely blog here– I love the design. You include a lot of info, but the design is so clean and uncluttered. It’s easy on the eyes, and it certainly inspires confidence in you as an artist.

    Cheers and all the best to you!

    • Hi, Mark, and thank you! I really try to keep the design clean and simple.

      Artifacts is a much better name for junk! Glad you liked that 🙂

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