One of my mentor clients asked an interesting question the other day. It had to do with how an artist develops a personal visual vocabulary. We all recognize or know artist’s work that already has this occurring. In fact this is one of the reasons why we recognize it as mature and authentic. The language being used is highly personal. It has to first develop within the artist and then, over time, the world sees it and because of it’s authenticity, places a high value on it. But how does this happen?

How does an individual’s language make the translation from strictly verbal, auditory common sounds, to a more personal visual one?

The answer, I believe, has to do with time. Over many years, a lifetime perhaps, there is a process that the artist goes through that converts her language into symbols or certain kinds of marks. For example if the artist is uplifted by an idea regarding nature then, if it is important enough, the artist sometimes abbreviates it into a particular mark. Maybe the feeling becomes an abstracted leaf shape. This abbreviation or mutation from the literal thing, to a feeling and then into a visual mark seems to happen as a result of having the same idea or feeling repeatedly. If we want to show or create a feeling of a thing from our life, then we can use almost any symbol, and if when we see it we can feel the same feeling that the original thing caused us to feel in the first place. For example, I use the infinity sign and in my work it means unlimited possibility. When I draw that shape in my work and leave it there, I am reminding myself of a truth that I know exists and because of this and it’s reassuring nature, I want to experience it often. In other words, it drifts through my day and when it does, especially when I am painting, I notate it for myself by drawing or carving this particular infinity sign. Of course in the beginning, nobody else understands. But over time, even if people don’t literally understand, I think they can recognize when a conversation is occurring.

It is almost as if over time we are creating a secret world with it’s own language. In time, people wandering into this personal visual language become engaged too. They even might assign new meanings or certainly modify yours to better fit their own. And then, amazingly, using this new language, a dialogue begins.