Stop searching for your voice

Many young artists dream of finding their “voice.” They believe a personal style will differentiate, and thus elevate, their work. But a preoccupation with individuality often distracts us from the most important task of all: mastery of the basics.

Back when you were first learning to talk – discovering your actual voice – were you concerned with establishing a personal style of speech?

Quite the opposite. In learning how to say what was on your mind, you had to conform. You struggled to arrange the right sounds in the traditional order. If you were lucky, you had someone to correct your mistakes, and nudge you towards grammatical convention. For it was not a unique style that you lacked, but rather the commonly shared mechanics of speech.

And yet through all this arduous mimicry, a unique voice did emerge. At no point were you trying to “find” it. Your cadence, your vocabulary, your attitude – these arrived without effort, unearthed by the eventual mastery of self expression.

In art, seeking one’s voice feels less onerous than studying convention. A painter must practice their brushstroke, composition, color, perspective, all to the point of exhaustion (and, worse, boredom). But in drilling these basics they are digging a steady channel through which their voice will inevitably be given passage. For it is virtually guaranteed that they will not paint quite like anyone else. But first, they must learn to paint.

These basic skills can take a lifetime to master. And in the face of that impossible horizon, it is no wonder that we choose instead to search for what makes us special.

But your voice doesn’t need to be “found.” Every single one of us already has a perspective that is unique and beautiful. It resides deep inside, patiently awaiting the technique that will set it free.