Authenticity brings to mind the kind of advertising slogans or taglines that one sees in the marketplace, e.g., a pizzeria asserts it serves “Authentic Italian” cuisine or a fruit bar label says, “Made with Real Fruit.” Immediately, consumers wonder how true these statements are. I wonder – real fruit as opposed to what – the wax kind?
The honesty implied by these claims authenticity is so valued that brand managers frequently want their products to be perceived as imbued by that sheen of “real” or “natural” ingredients. The halo of ‘real” is highly sought after.
Yet, what does authenticity mean to me? As an artist, my bottom line is authenticity means the need to be true to yourself, honoring one’s truth in action and work product, and not replicating someone else’s work. This is a big issue in the art world, especially as the Internet and social media has spread images and imitations of so many artworks by artists from across the world. Inspiration, not imitation, is good and necessary. To be authentic to one’s own self, includes finding that truth within and honoring it, using your own creativity and style, and bringing it to the canvas or whatever medium you prefer.
What Does Authenticity Entail?
“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle; and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough. Authenticity demands Wholehearted living and loving—even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough, and especially when the joy is so intense that we’re afraid to let ourselves feel it. Mindfully practicing authenticity during our most soul-searching struggles is how we invite grace, joy, and gratitude into our lives.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
I love the quote above from researcher, teacher, author, and podcaster Brene Brown.
First, she points out authenticity is a DAILY practice. Yes, one must constantly be on one’s toes about slips into imitation, or fakeness, or putting up armor. To have an authenticity practice, it’s a repeated dive into being imperfect, vulnerable, compassionate, and courageous. And that’s not easy. But so worthwhile.
For the artist, things really get tricky in the marketplace. Once art is a physical item for sale (or a digital product for download), the artist faces the nagging question, Will it sell? Or even worse, Will people like it? Will they like me? (Note the leap from art product to artist!) It’s not talked about often enough, in my opinion, but it is part of the whole psychology of creative work. And it’s one of those dilemmas that artists face along the whole process from conception to completion. So, for some, the shortcut becomes imitating another person’s saleable work or style or content, whether that person is famous or not. That is where, in my opinion, things go “off the rails.”
And today, the imitation game, as well as the “filtered and curated” life presented on social media is entirely common now. In the toxic soup of “influencer” culture, we are compelled to polish our profiles, light up our selfies and edit the heck out of our photography! We want our photos to look as great as the celebrity who has millions of followers and teams of assistants. We put a glossy spin on our lives, just as the publicist does for the celebrities. This cultural shift has led us to many societal problems. (Insert problem of your choice here!)
Back to the art world – Inspiration – the process of being inspired by another artist’s work, or something in nature, or the sound of music or the words of an author – is entirely different. That feeling of a creative spark, or enthusiasm, is wonderful and should be followed. Yet, it is just as important to practice mindfulness about where inspiration is leading, and adhere to the mode of authenticity, being true to yourself, your artistic vision, style and voice.
Let’s chose to engage in the daily practice of authenticity and inspiration in our creative journey. Whatever you do, keep going!
Where and how do “acting as if” have a place in living one’s truth. I’ve been pondering that since reading your column.
Yes, it is something we need to balance. I also heard recently – act your way into a different way of thinking, not thinking your way into acting differently. That’s a deep one too.