Celebrate Your Weirdness


There are many facets to this field we call Visual Communications.  What is it?  What are we doing here?  What does it take to be a successful graphic designer, interactive designer or photographer?  To strip things down to simple terms we could say for starters we are attempting to create something that will attract the attention of others.  If we’ve done our job well they may actually read or understand what it is we are communicating.  For the sake of simplicity I will roll the people in these disciplines together in a big creative lump, call them “artists” and their creations “art”.  I know I really stepped in it now and I know it’s not necessarily appropriate to call Visual Communications art but please allow me.  While I will be treading on some terrain normally reserved for “Fine Art”, I believe some techniques and philosophies do cross over.  What is art and how do you make it?  This is a question for the ages.  The answer is, “I don’t know.  I’m not sure anyone does.  I do have my opinions though, based on years of trying to create “art”.”

For starters, I must assume if you are taking VisCom courses you are interested in learning how to make things that will not only attract another person’s gaze but will possibly even be enjoyable or interesting to view or to convey relevant messages.  How does one go about this?  How can you create art that attracts attention and what do people enjoy viewing?  First, forget about trying to make something someone else will enjoy.  Create something that works FOR YOU.  If someone else enjoys it, that is a bonus.

“I paint for myself. I don’t know how to do anything else, anyway.”

Francis Bacon

Attempting to predict what others will like is not only a waste of time but can muddy the creative process and possibly water down your work.  This is not to say ignore things like target audiences and demographics.  However, understanding your audience can help you effectively convey your message.  Within those boundaries you can still remain true to yourself.

Now, to attracting attention.  How do you get a person to look at your art?  For one, people are drawn to things they don’t see very often. In my classes students roll their eyes and groan at the catch-phrases I repeat over and over. One of these is “strive for weirdness”.  This is greatly simplified but the idea is “common” things people see often can be boring and blend with the surroundings.  The point is BE DIFFERENT.  Offer a unique point of view.

In the range of successful artistic work, between the familiar and the new and unfamiliar, history reveals that many new artists do better when they create a new style of work. The reason for this could be debated but I think it simply boils down to getting attention. Much like a bright orange vest would stand out in a sea of gray, a piece of art that is different from all the rest tends to stand out and get attention. On the other hand, more established artists have had time to develop their style. Fans know what to expect. Fans like that they can count on an artist to deliver the same familiar type work they’ve grown accustomed to and these artists don’t necessarily have as great a need to attract attention.

Think about the Rolling Stones now, compared to when they began. At the beginning they were considered quite radical and scandalous. Over time people have grown accustomed to and comfortable with the Stones’ trademark sound. Can you imagine if they released a new electronic instrumental album full of bleeps and bloops? We fully expect that from Daft Punk because it is their style but I think there might be some upset Stones fans.

Speaking of music, think about how most successful recording artists can quickly be identified by “their sound”. Young bands make a common mistake in mimicking successful artists. This may be fine for a while to develop their skills but if they don’t eventually find their own unique sound they will fade away or forever be relegated to playing cover tunes in bars. Think about how many musical artists were considered radical and scandalous, even “weird” when they began their careers… ahem… Lady GaGa?

Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Woody Allen, Federico Fellini, David Lynch, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Terry Gilliam, Robert Altman and this year’s academy award winner for best picture and best director, Daren Aronofsky are not only world famous filmmakers but share something else in common. Many people considered them or at least their earlier work “weird”.

“Enter often to win!”

State Lotto commercial

Like the lottery, more entries increase your odds of winning.  Do lots of work.  Many pieces will end up on the reject pile but “winners” will eventually emerge.  Over time, you will develop a sense for what works and improve your ratio of good vs. bad.  Even the greatest artists do not create a masterpiece with each attempt.  Putting too much pressure on oneself is a recipe for “creative block” and failure.  Expect to create many “duds”.  You will perhaps learn the most from these.  Try to understand why the piece failed and quickly move on.


I always encourage my students to work hard, be different and develop their own artistic style. We all see the world a little differently. Tap into your unique vision. Don’t be afraid to be “weird”!  That’s why I encourage beginning artists and Vis Com students to “strive for weirdness”. We are all a little weird in our own way. Celebrate and explore your very own unique style! It is what makes you you and is what will set you apart from other artists.


“Creativity takes courage.”

Henri Matisse


Mark Searles


Ivy Tech Community College – Columbus | Franklin

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4 Responses to Celebrate Your Weirdness

  1. Jonathan Wilson says:

    I hope our students read this Mark.
    You have some priceless tips.
    Thanks for the article!

  2. Jan Banister says:

    Thank you Mark for a thought-provoking article, and especially for permission/encouragement to be weird. This is a wonderful celebration of the creative process, let’s hope the students embrace your words with renewed enthusiasm! The ones that do will undoubtedly be successful.

  3. Bev Wilson says:

    Excellent article Mark. It is nice to be reminded of the importance of leaving one’s comfort zone in order to strive to be unique. Sometimes in a weird way…

  4. Keith Kline says:

    Great words of wisdom. I can very much relate to “Expect to create many duds”. I’ve spent many hours working on paintings that didn’t turn out. When I was young it would anger me that I’d waisted a lot of time until I realized it’s all part of the learning process. A lot of my work has gone up the chimney or to the landfill. I asked an artist once if he ever threw anything away. He replied, “Are you kidding? Never”. It showed! On an unrelated note… Thanks for the tour. We had a great time and enjoyed meeting you.

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