the mouth

The Voice of the Artist

Indulge me in a bit of a pondering. Much has been said about the literary and visual artist’s need of finding a voice. On the one hand, I understand that this is an attempt as stating that the artist must not be silent and, simultaneously, has a need to find something unique to say.  In that sense, the metaphor of finding a voice is explained. However, as important a notion as that may be, it is not this aspect of the metaphor that intrigues me.

This guiding metaphor of finding a voice interests me on different grounds. As a conceptual trope, it captures my thoughts because it employs an insinuation of language but gives primary emphasis to the sense of embodiment. The metaphor of finding a voice implies language but, more directly, it implies the very presence of the artist as a speaker. If we talk of visual images and images created with words as “giving voice” to the artist, we are, to some extent, giving thought to an advent of the artist being both present and speaking.

Why do we not talk about  artists as looking for a language? Undeniably, artists do develop a visual language and gather a particular use of written language that can be recognized as a verbal style. These aspects of their work are what is being referred to as their voice. Even in this elaboration, however, the question remains – why is this metaphor worded in this specific way? Even with this point in my mind, I am still left wondering why we persist in a metaphor for the artist’s work that stands at a bit of a distance from this notion of style. We are not speaking of their language? Why are we are speaking of their voice?

Having given a fair bit of my art practice and personal study to exploring the nature of visual semantics – specifically, the representational relationship of words and images – I have some considerations on this matter. However, I set this thoughtful gaze before you without offering any further elaboration of my thoughts. I do so mainly because I think that there is sometimes more useful to be found in laying out questions than in offering elaborations. I think this way because I assume that the former tends to open up our thoughts while the latter tends to close them in or shut them down. I also think this way because I assume that the process of analysis is often much more interesting and productive that the conclusions of it.

To be sure, what I am offering here does little in laying a firm foundation for concrete thought. However it does chart an area of thinking to explore. Therefore, I leave this with you.

Regardless, I am left wonder what voice you would give to this thought as an artist?

Ross Melanson

About Ross Melanson

He is a poet, visual artist, and independent scholar living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He is the Founding Editor of page51 – a website dedicated to exploring the relationship between art, culture, and philosophy. Read more →, or

2 thoughts on “The Voice of the Artist

  1. Perhaps one needs a voice in order to speak a language…?

    And so the idea of finding one’s voice might indicate that not only does one have a language, but also that one can communicate that language to others. Perhaps everyone is born with their own inherent and specific language, which ideally develops to the point of necessitating communication, in which case one would need a “voice”…

    To have the language is one thing, and to communicate the language is another.

    1. In looking back at this and reading your comments on it Verna, I have a few more definitive thoughts to express on this subject. As I stated in the article, the metaphor of voice suggests a function of the body and, thus, embodiment. This implication of the “body” suggests the particularity, concreteness or absoluteness of one’s own physical being in relation to the same aspects in others. The metaphor of language and the voice which expresses it, suggests our social relations with others. Our body, however, gives emphasis to the particularity of our being over the being of all others.

      Is it possible that the metaphor of voice is referring not only to something about expression (i.e. language) but also something about the modality of our expressions (the mouth, the voice, and the body)? I think that it is. And, if it is, the question is what is inferred by this emphasis on modality? I would suggest that it might, indeed, be inferring something about the authenticity of our being in contrast to the authenticity of the being of others.

      I wonder if the implication of the voice and it implications about the body and embodiment is suggesting something about the need for authenticity in our expressions in art. Is it suggesting that our particular and individual expressions should seek to be a manifestation of the authenticity of our peculiar and individual sense of being?

      If this were true, an artist finding their voice is not a discussion about an artist finding a unique subject matter. Instead, it would be a discussion about an artist finding an authentic expression of themselves, their specific particularity, their own individuality, and their own experiences.

      I hope this is clear…

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