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  • Writer's pictureJeff


This contains my thoughts originally posted in the comments of a video by photographers' Tony & Chelsea Northrup found at Their discussion was about traits of great photographers and one of the traits they mentioned was having a single style and not varying from this for their entire career. I had to disagree, the greatest artists prove again and again that this isn't true. That being said, the Northrups are very good educators and I highly recommend their channel. 

I'm really tired and disagree with the idea that the greats (of anything) do or should stick with a certain style. Yes, they might sometimes get more fame from one of their specific styles but that doesn't mean they aren't creating in different styles. It's not the same thing. If a viewer thinks more about a specific style or work by an artist than all of their work it says more about the viewer than it does the artist.

Countless great artists have had multiple styles and multiple artistic outlets. Some practice them simultaneously, some start with one then evolve to another. The work Annie Liebovitz produces now is very different than what she shot in her early years. Look at Irving Penn who was equally great at (and recognized for) his portraits, fashion photography, and still life work. Edward Weston was another amazing artist who was equally proficient and famous for multiple styles. He shot incredible portraits, landscapes, and nudes. I certainly can't pick just one of those and consider him only a landscape photographer after seeing his other work. Same thing with Robert Mapplethorpe, equally brilliant in his nudes and his still life.

This isn't just limited to photography, it's true of all great artists. Imagine da Vinci only as a painter and not a scientist and inventor. Michelangelo is equally brilliant and famous for his painting and his sculpture. Look at an entertainer like the brilliant Robin Williams, is he a stand up comic, a voice actor, a dramatic actor, a comedic actor? Of course, he was all of those. 

I think one of the traits of great artists is that they, in fact, don't stick to a single style. The greatest artists have a passion and the ability to develop their skills in multiple styles withing multiple endeavors and that's what really makes them stand out as the greats. It's those who never move beyond a single style that are representative of someone that is good, sometimes really good, at what they do, but don't have that greatness that sets them apart. 

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