Authenticity in artistic expression

Authenticity in Art

This is something that often tugs at my sleeve. How do I know that I am true to myself in my art practice? There are so many voices out there broadcasting their various opinions on what I should be thinking and celebrating. And they also influence my artistic thoughts and dreams.

One such voice speaks of REWARD– the powerful roar of sales and money. This voice suggests that you should paint what will sell. Very sensible when you think about providing daily bread for the table. Added to this is the thrill of selling your artwork. It is so rewarding when someone else voluntarily opens their purse to purchase your creative endeavours

Linked closely to REWARD is RECOGNITION. The voice of RECOGNITION is a tough task master. We alone know the long hours we spent creating the work, the doubts, the ecstasy accompanying us in those lonely moments. Positive affirmation nourishes and encourages us to keep creating. But those voices are fickle. Instagram and Facebook have added a whole new superficial system of “likes” and love heart emoticons that can become addictive and misleading. I would like to have a question pop up any time someone hits the “like” button: “WHY? What do you love about this piece? Be specific. Have a good look and give me a detailed reason for your love and like.” I suspect there will be a lot less likes and loves. I may be suffering from hash-tag fatigue!

And what happens when you want to venture into new and unknown waters? Will you lose your faithful supporters? Maybe a few aliases to explore new styles and self-expression could be a way around that. But then - which one is the real you? Can there be more than one?

Then there are the voices of PRESTIGE. This is the competitive arena where judges, art competitions, intellectual artist statements, influential contacts and politics collide and jostle to “rate” artistic expression. We want our art to be taken seriously, therefore theses voices tend to matter deeply even though we know they are often subjective and thwarted.

What about the voices of our fellow creative peers? I thoroughly believe in an environment of collaboration where we can celebrate each other’s successes without any jealousy or bitterness. We need to create circles of respect and trust where we can encourage each other, give honest positive feedback when asked, and share the journey together. In these circles, there must be wide open spaces for individual expression and thought. We can’t replicate someone else’s authentic voice. We can be influenced, of course. We can be inspired and challenged. But we can’t be them.

Ultimately, fame and fortune can’t provide you with the answer to your authenticity. Your own heart and thoughts hold the keys. This can be very difficult, as it would imply taking time out of this noisy world to slow down and listen patiently to what your soul is trying to articulate. To turn off the phone and computer and music and wait for that small voice of YOU. Recently I have been working through the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It is a creativity course that embraces two tools: daily pages and a weekly artist date. Writing the daily pages, entails putting down your train of thought on paper in long hand every day. I can already hear you say: “But who has the time for that?” My original thought exactly, but my goodness, it really revealed to me how little I knew my own thoughts. And this is where authenticity comes into play. When you spend time with your own thoughts, writing them down in long hand, they can be quite surprising! The other powerful tool is the weekly artist date. On this date, you spend time with yourself, no friends, family members or device is invited along. You do whatever makes your heart sing, whether it is going to the beach, watching a movie, dancing while no one is watching… It surprised me how difficult I found this. I had to give myself permission to do NOTHING that society would deem PRODUCTIVE! O the guilt!

(On a side note, Carrie Battan from the NewYorker wrote a thought provoking article on Julia’s book, specifically how the books sits within our current culture of self-promotion: Another conversation worth having!)

But the most beneficial part for me so far (I am only halfway through the course), is redefining my audience. To be authentic I can only paint/draw those images or ideas that are stirring my own heart. And as such I am essentially only a vessel for those ideas and images. Piet Mondrian articulated it beautifully when he said: “The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.”

Once the work is out there, I have no control on how it will be received. I must trust that Creation will take care of the rest. My responsibility is to be as authentic as I could possibly manage in the process, listening to the voice inside, trusting it along the way. Authenticity requires faith.