"Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are" - Brene Brown
What is Artistic Authenticity
Artistic Authenticity is about the process of opening up and allowing ourselves to be spilled into some form of creativity. It is not about getting "atta boys". It is deeper than that. It is about having the courage to be you in the world. Authenticity takes courage. It is risk taking, It doesn't behave according to popular opinion. It doesn't try to shock others. It doesn't try. It is like a caged tiger pacing in its cage, waiting for the door to be opened so that it can run free. Unlike the tiger, the door to your authenticity can olnly be opened by you. If your door is always open, congratulations!!! If not, and you want to be authentic, you must open the door. The door is not locked. It is simply closed.
Why is my door closed?
I struggle a lot with artistic authenticity. I battle many obstacles before I even move to pick up the paint brush. There is a voice, an inner critic, that badgers me as I stare at my blank white watercolor paper. It taunts me, "No one is going to like this." "You don't have what it takes!" "You are a phony!" "You couldn't make something original if you tried your whole life!" "You should give up!" "You stink!" I don't know about you, but my needling voice is very mean. It is a wonder I ever paint at all! I have to admit that the voice wins more often than it should.
If we are lucky, those inner voices diminish as we finally begin the process of creating.
Every artist wants to make a work that people care about, that arrests them and moves them to their core. The only way I know how to care about my work is to be authentic. To cultivate authenticity in my art, is a process for me. Below are some of the steps I take to free my true authentic self from the cage.
Cherish Your Work
No one is going to care about what you are making if you don’t care about it. Don’t try and make work that you think you “should” be making, but focus on making work that you care about. I love the show Project Runway. Each episode, clothing designers compete to create the winning outfit for their model. Models sporting their newly created fashions, strut the runway before a panel of judges, who then critique each outfit. Every week the designers struggle to maintain their authenticity. They vacillate between what they want to create, and what the judges want to see. The judges are most moved and impressed when a designer takes a risk and holds nothing back. Those risk takers are also most often the winners on the show. The designers who gave into the pressure to please the judges, forgetting their own expression, inevitably lost. This show teaches me how necessary it is to stay true to yourself as an artist. When you begin a new work of art with the idea of pleasing others, you water down the impact of your art. Cherishing your work means not letting others opinions matter more than your own. You can be guided, but ultimately authenticity is trusting that your expression is valid.
Being authentic in your work can be extremely difficult emotionally. Fear cripples authenticity. You might fear what people think, or that you will be laughed at. Fear of laying yourself bare for the world to trample you, can be paralyzing. Making authentic work exposes you to rejection. Sometimes the people closest to you will make comments about your work, saying things like "Why is his hair blue?" Or, "Is that a house, or a bird?" This can cause you to doubt yourself. Oftentimes your partner or family members are prone to a certain type of art. It may not be what you are putting out there. In this case it would be better to listen to people who get you and your work. When you are able to stand under the criticism without crumbling, you can expose yourself to the critiques. Artistic Authenticity can be hampered by comparing yourself to other artists, who you deem "better" than yourself. Comparing can leave you feeling like an imposter. Each artist has their own unique expression. There are no identical people. Even twins have dissimilarities. Our authentic expressions can't help but be individual too. Listening to the inner voice can halt authenticity. Listening to all the reasons you should not be authentic makes it impossible to even begin. These obstacles will keep your artistic authenticity in a cage. Becoming aware of them will help set your authenticity free.
When you begin a new painting with the idea of pleasing others, you water down the impact of your expression/painting.
How to Find Your Authenticity
How do you become authentic about what you are making? You first have to know what you care about. There is a lot of noise out there vying for your attention. Make an effort to listen to the nicer quiet voice of your inner passion. Maybe you don't trust that your authenticity will be valuable to others'. You may not trust your authenticity because it is dark and broody, or wacky or too bright. For these reasons we may be tempted to adopt someone else's expression. It seems safer, less risky. Eventually, our lack of authenticity makes us lose interest in creating at all.
If you want to be authentic, you have to know and own what you are passionate about.
I am always being dazzled with the next new trend. Like a crow that is attracted to sparkle, I flit from one trendy style to the next. I get bored eventually until a new one comes along. I have trouble knowing my passion. It seems to change with the wind.
Instead of combing over art images on the computer trying to get inspiration, I will sit outside in my hammock. I listen to the birds, or watch the trees bend gracefully as the wind passes through the leaves. I will record in my journal all the things that move me and bring pleasure to my life. Ask yourself what is most important to you? What messages do you want to share with the world? If you were no longer living, how would you want the world to remember you? The answers will help you be clearer about your message.
Your passion may not resonate with everyone, but there will be some out there that are inspired, moved and affected by your honest artistic authenticity.
Improve Your Skills
Becoming familiar with your particular medium is vital. You will be able convey your authenticity more accurately with a confident brush stroke or line, rather than an insecure one. If you don't practice, your expression becomes more about your skills or lack of skills. Continue to evolve and improve taking courses and learning new things. This keeps you from becoming stale, stuck in a time warp, or bored.
Tools to Inspire
In order to quiet the voices, I pull out my tools. I don't mean my painting tools, I mean my inspirational tools. I turn on my music. I put the Gorillas, or Lil Peep on my wireless speaker as loud as it will play. I pour a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and take a few sips. Somehow this helps in drowning out the inner critic. It inspires me to let go and be real. You will have to find what works for you. It may be dancing first, screaming loudly, running around the block, or whatever drowns out the negativity and inspires freedom. It is important to go into the creative process free and with a minimal amount of fear.
Change is Inevitable
If you have been painting a while. People may not be happy when you grow and evolve. I have experienced this in my commission work. I have lost money from established clients because I evolved and changed. Earlier clients want to see my old style. Sticking to a style of working can be good if you are interested in creating a brand and developing a cohesive body of work and eventually making money.
Sticking strictly to one avenue of work because you don't think anyone will appreciate your new work could potentially end your love for painting. There is a balance.
Everyone wants their work to be loved.
Everyone wants to be admired and loved by others. After a work is created, you want to share it with others to see what they think. Our hope is that they will love it as we do. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they won't. Either way, your expression is valid, because it comes from you, your core. How can that be wrong? Remember Van Gogh only sold one work in his lifetime, and that was to his brother. Does this mean he was no good? I always wonder how he continued to paint, in spite of a disinterested public. Could it be because he created work that was satisfying to him personally without the need for outside approval. I would like to believe that was the reason. Today Van Gogh's work resonates with the world.
Quotes from other artists -
"Creativity takes courage!" - Henri Matisse
"Here’s the irony: the more you create out of who you are, the more it will resonate with people. Because they will feel your struggle, your joy, your God, your pain, your story. - David Santistevan
“I put into my paintings everything I like.”
“Your audience doesn’t know what it wants until you show it to them.”- Steve Jobs
Honest art has no aesthetic standard. It is only measured by its raw, unprocessed, and uncensored existence. It can be ugly and real. It can be stunning and empowered. It can look like a kindergartner drew it or it can resemble the work of a master painter. No matter its appearance, the level of honesty is the only factor that is important.
When we make honest art or we encourage others to make honest art, we are in the midst of authenticity and humanness. We are validating and affirming something far greater than appearance or success. We are tapping into our life force and affirming our birth right to a lived human experience. - Lisa Mitchell
"I would like to paint as the bird sings" - Claude Monet
Do you have certain ideas about what it means to do your art the “right way”? Maybe you’re a writer or a musician or a painter, but you are stuck in a pattern of defeat. Maybe you homeschool your babies or you teach in a public school classroom and your ideas of what it means to be a good teacher are keeping you from actually teaching. Allow yourself to figure out those tricks and quirks that bring the you out of you, even if they don’t look right. Are you allowing your own expectations to hinder you from freely expressing yourself? Is your idea of the right way keeping you from your best way? - Emily P. Freeman
Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.- Andy Warhol
A great book to help with those mean inner voices: