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What Bruce Lee Can Teach Us About Developing an Artistic Style

Image courtesy of Dan Johnson Art

“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

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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

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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.

5 Comments on What Bruce Lee Can Teach Us About Developing an Artistic Style

  1. Jen Kirby says:

    There is so much I could say about this subject, but the bottom line is that you must learn the rules that you can’t break if you want your art to last. Every medium has its own rules and ignoring them means your paint will fall off the canvas or equivalent. Leonardo’s Last Supper broke the technical rules which is why there is so little of his paint left on the wall. I believe it was already crumbling in his lifetime. Lesser artists’ work has lasted because they did follow the essential rules of painting on walls.
    And look at Picasso’s early drawings to see he had the fundamentals down perfectly before he developed his distinctive style.

  2. kara rane says:

    very true Dan.
    I studied classical drawing + painting with a master painter (Nan Sheng Liu & David Leffel), for this I am forever grateful. Very few students last past the initial phase, this is the same for martial arts (I also began my martial arts studies with Wing Chun), many people want the results without the effort. But the journey is the way~ and wow* is it fun to paint (or do martial arts/yoga, etc) when you have this foundation on which to build higher and higher… You fly and that makes it all worthwhile.

  3. Mary Collins says:

    I’m a quilter and I definitely find that whenever I need a boost to my creativity, I try another traditional or newer technique that I hadn’t learned before. It gives me more tools to express inspriration.

  4. Mary says:

    I work for a ‘for profit’ school, that is also fast track. It is a top notch school, and is giving great value. I am also a student, with a previous art degree. It fits into the “quick fix” category. People think that all they need is that degree. so a lot of the students have neither the talent nor the drive and are angry and disappointed by the experience, not to mention the results. All the creative pursuits take time, work and discipline before you are free enough that your can use all you have learned in a steady stream of consciousness. Thank you for an excellent and engaging article.

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