This morning over breakfast, a couple artist friends and I were discussing artistic styles and one of them mentioned the fact that she liked to paint abstracts as much as she did realism, often alternating first one then another, or even working on one of each at the same time. The problem that came up was the dismay this engendered on the part of gallery owners as they were shown radically different work by the same artist. The artist even reported that one gallery had refused to accept her realistic work. She was questioning whether her work lacked "direction." And, while most artists do tend to specialize to some degree, she asked, is doing so a necessity in trying to succeed as an artist?
To my way of thinking, versatility is one of the highest accolades that can be paid an artist of any kind, actor, musician, writer, painter, etc. Personally, I don't switch styles but I do paint quite a variety of different subject matter. It's unfortunate that many elitist individuals in "the business" not to mention academia, see such versatility as mercenary and a mark of shallowness. They see it as the equivalent of a Democrat becoming a Republican. Of course the reason is, it flies in the face of their need to categorize or typecast artists. Inspite of the fact that the art world praises creativity the business world of art tends to feast on predictability and consistency on the part of the artist from whom they earn their "bread and butter." It makes their work more difficult when the artist insists on "reinventing" himself or herself every year or so. (Picasso must have driven his dealers CRAZY!)
Worse than that, from a gallery owner's point of view, the artist who has "multiple artistic personalities" DEFIES pigeonholing which REALLY creates marketing difficulties. In all fairness, the problem actually stems from the buying public's desire to label everything and everybody stylistically. Think of the analogy of Hienz selling ketchup that had a little extra salt in one bottle, a little more vinegar in the next, and a touch of garlic in the next. The "creative" chef would be a marketing nightmare. They would have to offer each buyer a taste test in order to sell the product. Of course, as artists, we are outraged at our paintings being compared to ketchup, but in terms of decorating at least, (which is the basis of 99% of all sales) that's what our work tends to be, a tasty condiment.