Where Are You Going?

Have you ever heard yourself speaking or singing on a recording? I still remember the first time this happened to me. When I played back the recording I couldn’t believe how much different I sounded than I had expected. It was as if I was listening to a completely different person. Was this my voice?

Of course, this is how it feels the first time for everybody. The discrepancy is caused by the resonance created in our skull combined with the direct passage of sound waves between the oral cavity and the inner ears. The difference between what we are used to hear and what our voice actually sounds like is for many an insurmountable barrier; so much that many end up hating hearing their own, recorded voice.

I think the same dynamic plays out with many creative people’s metaphorical, artistic voice. As much as we urge for our own, distinct voice, many are unaware of how they artistically communicate with others. Worse, this lack of awareness means whatever they create is inconsistent with whom they really are—and perhaps even deeply disconnected from their passions and ambitions. They project who they think they should be, and ignore the deeper signals about who they really are.

I have often written about artistic voice in this blog. More and more I see a clear connection between developing a clear, distinct voice and your creative development. One is expressed through the other and vice versa. I also believe that being honest in your creative development will infuse a more authentic voice.

Your artistic voice isn’t something you sit down and deliberately create, like a blueprint of your new house. It comes through creating and practising your artistic skills—and simply living, the more authentic the better.

Nevertheless, according to the author Todd Henry, to spur the development of your authentic voice, you must cultivate three tings: A strong sense of identity which means doing artistic work that is rooted in something substantive and personally meaningful; a consonant vision for your work, meaning a sense of the ultimate impact you want to have; and mastery of your skills.

Identity is primarily defined by the question “Who are you?” However you respond, it would be a story about how you perceive yourself and your place in the world. In fact, your sense of identity is a collection of many stories, related to your childhood experiences, your job, your hobbies, your political views and a number of other defining characteristics. Thus, self-knowledge is a critical ingredient of identity, because when it is lacking you are more likely to compromise your true thoughts and beliefs. You must have a rooted understanding of why your work matters to you, what makes it unique, and why you believe it should matter to others.

The second part of what instigate an authentic voice, the vision, is primarily defined by the question “Where are you going?” This implies that you need to be able to articulate the kind of effect you want to have and how you want the world to be different through your efforts. You should at least have a sense of how you plan to impact them. The majority of great creators have some sense of where their work is leading and the ultimate impact they want to have. They have “a north pole” towards which to navigate, even if only in a general sense.

The final and third piece to what positively influences your artistic voice is defined by the question “How will you get there?” As you sharpen you skills you have more tools in your toolbox and give yourself more options for expression. I am often one who attach less importance to skills, but no doubt artists who sharpen their skills are better positioned to create more diverse and stronger work.

The answers to the three questions give you a map for encouraging the development of your authentic, artistic voice. Your sense of identity leads you to a compelling vision, which then illuminates the skills you need to master in order to evolve as an artist.

We have just commenced with a new year. Maybe this is a good time to sit down and ask yourself these three questions. The answers may open up new ways for your creative development and in so doing also stimulate your development of an authentic voice.

Talking about a new year, I want to wish you all the best, creatively and otherwise, for 2023.

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8 thoughts on “Where Are You Going?

  1. A great article… And it will motivate and guide all of in very beginning of 2023… At least, what you wrote was very good for me, dear Otto. Just an hour ago, my wife and I were talking about this, while drinking our coffee. There are so many voices in my head that I seem to have drifted away from my own creative voice… I may have lost my North Pole… Thank you very much. Happy New Year and Best Wishes, Love, nia

  2. All good points. I think it may start with the notion of making art for yourself first, without worrying about what the latest fad is. The “where are you going” should then evolve naturally as you gain experience and learn new skills. The “where” will likely and probably should change over time, as you find new things to appreciate and learn new techniques.

    Nice write up.

  3. I believe I will be eternally perplexed by voice. I am always surprised when people comment on my writing style or voice, because I don’t perceive that I have one. I generally have only a vague notion of where I’m going, both metaphysically and physically. I tend to be easily distracted by a path branching off the main road. Perhaps that is part of what forms my identity, the explorer. And of course, since I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t have a clue how I’ll get there. But I love the spontaneity of figuring this all out each step along the way. Somehow all that vagueness seems to translate into a style or voice that others recognize. How crazy is that?

    An interesting and thought-provoking post.

    1. I don’t think it’s crazy at all. Clearly, your voice is related to you being an explorer and amplified by your love for spontaneity. From what I have read of your writings, I would definitely say you have a strong voice. 🙂

  4. “They project who they think they should be, and ignore the deeper signals about who they really are.” You wrote that sentence with regard to artistic communication but it applies more broadly. I’m troubled that so many people engage in what has been called “groupthink,” in which people take up the cause of something trendy without examining the evidence. One reason for “going along” is that a person who expresses doubts about an ideological tenet can get mobbed online and sometimes even physically attacked. Dissenters have always gotten criticized; the online world we live in makes attacks easier and more likely.

    Coming back to art: in 2017 I stopped in at the gallery of a university in Calgary (Alberta, Canada). On display was a show of students’ artworks. A person who worked in the gallery asked me what I thought of the show. My answer was that it smacked of all the trendy social themes I’ve come to expect of universities. Most of the works were ideology masquerading as art.

    1. I think you point to something very important. True artists go their own way, but, as you state, they have always run the risk of getting criticized. And indeed, the new digital reality, has made it easier than ever to attack and degrade those how don’t conform to the “right” thinking.

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