Living things sometimes defy the norms of their species. It isn’t common, but when it happens it usually produces something interesting, thought provoking or beautiful. Today I witnessed a massive flock of geese flying, not in the usual v-formation, but in x’s, y’s and several v’s all at once. Not content to follow one leader, several were branching out on their own, breaking the order, forcing the rest of the group to choose who they would pursue. It was fascinating to watch, and it also made me wonder; what is it about some human beings that makes us want to break the usual social ranks and forge our own path? Is the the need to dominate or a need to be independent? What about artists, in particular? Are we trying to express ourselves? Or is it that we are determined to make our our own choices after a lifetime of being told to color inside the lines, that a sky is always blue… that we should maintain a sense of order and decorum, and wait our turn?
The answer is probably different for each of us, but one thing is certain; the art of creating, when it truly comes from within, is marked by an artist’s unique stroke or character. When we consider the great masterpieces in art, music or writing, we find that we admire them “because” they stand apart. These great works weren’t created with the intention of emulating the work of others, stroke by stroke or note by note. First, the artist studied the respected work of others. Next, s/he learned existing, proven techniques and cultivated his/her craft. But only when that artist applied a very personal mark or twist of technique, through voice, stroke or composition, did that artist’s work take on a life of its own. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a professor at Harvard University, once said, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I might have to add… neither do artists who stay inside the lines.