The other day I was looking through an issue of American Art Collector and saw a brief article on an upcoming artist. It showed some stylized paintings of people, mostly women. So I quickly scanned through the text and immediately found the sentence I thought I would find. It said that the artist had really found his style after taking a workshop with Milt Kobayashi.
My immediate thought was, “Dude, you didn’t find your style. You found his style.” The paintings all had the same sort of pretty caricaturization that is the hallmark of Kobayashi’s style. It’s attractive, but rather cloying.
I’ve had this experience before. I’ll see a few paintings by an “emerging” artist and think, “clone of David Leffel.” Then I’ll look and see that Leffel is cited as a teacher. Or once I was at an open studio event and saw a bunch of expressionist paintings. “Oskar Kokoschka,” I thought. And darned if her bio didn’t state that she had studied with Kokoschka.
I’m not sure how I feel about this phenomenon. Once upon a time, it was pretty normal for a student to develop a style similar to a master’s: c.f. Van Dyck and Rubens, for example. These days, however, it seems a bit of a shame when a painter is presented as some sort of great talent when that talent really amounts to replicating another painter’s signature style.
That doesn’t mean that you should have no influences, but blatant copying of a style seems rather much, I think. Beyond that, I tend to be a bit disappointed when all of the students of a famous teacher such as Leffel seem to turn out paintings just like the teacher’s. It seems as if the job of a painting teacher is to help each student paint their own paintings, not more of the teacher’s work.