Art is an expression of the artist, which means that each artist’s work will bear their own unique stamp whether he or she is conscious of it or not. However this will initially be muddied by the many influences that have fed the artist’s creative identity. It can take some time to emerge from the shadow of our influences and those we have aspired to emulate to become confident in our own artistic expression and be authentic in the practice of our craft. This is a rite of passage for each artist (of any discipline); a way of discovering who we are, how to express ourselves and develop our own method of work.
But above all, in order to be, never try to seem.
Imitation creates a framework to keep us steady and give us a focus while we take our first creative steps, but after a time we will only progress if we take the stabilisers off. So, while our attempts to create art like those we admire will allow us to start to discover our own particular styles and leanings, this is only the beginning of the journey. At some point we must choose to leave the previously trodden paths of others and forge our own creative trail. With practice comes discovery, confidence and skill and the strands of our true identity emerge as the false strands wither and fade.
We are often too quick to compare our own work to that of others and find it lacking, despite the fact that the other artist may well have spent many years honing their craft and are much further down the path (a path that may ultimately bear no relation to our own). At some point, if we are to be truly free in the creation of our art, we need to be able to enjoy, appreciate and be inspired by the work of others without envy or pointless comparisons. By extension, we must be willing to shatter the shackles of ideas of ‘normal’ or fashionable or we will never discover what we are capable of.
Be yourself—everyone else is already taken.
Yet, it can be hard to be truly authentic. We can find ourselves constrained by practices and forms of expression that once worked for us but now feel like hand-me-down clothes that we have outgrown. Not to mention the pressure to conform and fit a particular mould or definition. So how do we peel off the layers and discover who we really are as artists?
In order to be authentic we need to be completely honest with ourselves and others. This does not mean baring our souls to all and sundry. Rather, when we give an opinion are we sure it’s our own? Do we express beliefs that we know to be true in our heart? Or are we echoing what we have heard/read/been told? If we want to know what we really think and believe then we need to make sure we are regularly taking time out to be quiet, free from the media and external noise. It will take time but eventually our own voices will begin to emerge and our thoughts (and subsequently our art) will have their origin in us, not others.
To find yourself, think for yourself.
Are our tastes current? By this I mean are we making daily choices based on what we have always done/been told we should, or are we mindful of what we genuinely enjoy and what is good for our souls? What suited our younger selves (clothes, colours, music, food, pastimes…all the threads of daily life) may not reflect who we are now.
Ultimately, authenticity is nothing more than living with integrity, which essentially means being whole. It’s good to step back and ask ourselves questions, peeling back the layers until we discover what is real. Then we can build on this, maintaining a strong coherent thread through all that we do. This means making conscious choices and discovering what really resonates with us, paying attention to detail, listening.
We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.
One of the reasons the Phoenix remains such a powerful image is that we are drawn to the idea of rebirth and new beginnings. Perhaps like the mythological bird we need to be willing to set fire to our ‘nest’ with all that we have outgrown or that which doesn’t belong, burning away the unnecessary so that our true shiny selves can come forth. And like the Phoenix this will be a process that is repeated again and again. We must commit to regularly shedding our old feathers to make way for the new, becoming more fully ourselves and therefore becoming artists – and people – who are truly authentic.
A note about the artwork:
ACRYLIC ON CARD ~ 4.5″ x 5.5″ ~ 2013 ~ This simple little portrait of the beautiful and charming Badger was painted several years ago and remains one of my favourite ‘paint children’. He was created at a time when the idea of being a full time artist was just a dream. Now that the dream has become a reality I still look fondly upon this work which was made out of a simple love for these wonderful creatures.