“Art is the perfection of nature and life through the artist, who has supreme control of technique and is thereby liberated from it.”
~ Bruce Lee
We live in a quick-fix society. People are constantly looking for shortcuts to success. Get rich quick. Lose weight fast. Instant enlightenment. Whatever we want, we are always looking for the fastest way to get there.
The problem is that by taking shortcuts, we often try to run before we can walk, missing out the essential groundwork that is required for true success.
Freedom of Expression in Art
Much emphasis is given these days to freedom of expression and developing a unique artistic style.
This is certainly important, but I think this artistic freedom is sometimes emphasised too early, at the expense of learning basic fundamental techniques.
Obviously it depends what you specialise in, but for example, if you want to be a figurative sculptor, you first need to learn anatomy and how to draw the human figure. Only after you have mastered the basics could you move on to three-dimensional sculpture and start experimenting with your own techniques.
Developing your own style is a very important part of being an artist, but it’s not something that should be forced or worked at, it should develop naturally over the course of your development as an artist.
Learn the Rules Before You Break Them
The legendary martial artist Bruce Lee developed his own style of martial arts, known as Jeet Kune Do, which was essentially a style without a style, incorporating techniques from a wide variety of other disciplines, and liberating himself from many of the ‘rules’ of traditional martial arts.
But before he developed this style, he had spent years and years training in the traditional style of wing chun, as well as studying other martial arts such as karate, aikido, judo etc.
Only after spending countless hours perfecting the fundamental techniques of an established system, was he able to start experimenting with what he had learnt, and developing a method that was unique to him.
Had he skipped the basic training and tried to take a shortcut to developing his own fighting style, there is no way he would have achieved the success that he did, and he would undoubtedly have been a far inferior martial artist.
Finding the Balance
“Art calls for complete mastery of techniques, developed by reflection within the soul.”
~ Bruce Lee
All of this is not to say that you need to stick to a rigid system for your whole life. On the contrary, it’s important to express your authentic self in your art.
I would recommend that while you are practising your fundamental technique, you set aside a certain amount of time every week to experiment, and express yourself fully, without worrying about technique.
You just need to be careful that you are not compromising your art by skipping the basics altogether.
How do you find a balance between mastering established techniques and developing your own expressive style? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.