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Authentic - what does that even mean? Being a bit geeky, the Oxford dictionary tells us that it means to be of undisputed origin and not a copy, it is genuine, it is true and accurate. So, how does authenticity translate in the art world. Its fair to say that Milli Vanilli (showing my age here) were not authentic. Although, some could argue that they were authentically themselves as lip-sync specialists, the problem was they pretended they weren’t. And, within that example, is the crux of what it means to be as an authentic artist or photographer. We are all the sum of many parts - artists and photographers we admire, work that we have seen elsewhere, processes and methods we have been taught. These are all things learnt from elsewhere that come together as we we build our own artwork. That is authentic art. What is not authentic is when you copy someone else’s work, when you pretend to be something you aren’t.

Photo fo Mitre Peak
Classic Mitre Peak

Throughout my career I have had my ideas stolen. Yes, that sounds a bit dramatic but it isn’t really. I am sure that other people have been asked to write proposals that are then taken and used by someone else, or had ideas regurgitated to them at meetings as if it was the bloke in the corner’s cunning plan, it happens to us all. But, it is really really annoying when you have worked hard to create something that is copied.

I have had respectful artists ask permission to use my photographs as a basis for paintings - more than happy to do that. Not that happy when I see my photographs on someone else’s profile being represented as theirs (yes, this has happened more than once and is why I usually apply a watermark to my online images). Hint: if you want to know if one of your images has been copied or used without your knowledge you can do a google image search - right click on your image and search for similar images.

Being authentic means making the odd mistake, it means experimenting with ideas and looks, with ways of presenting your material. To my mind, being authentic means never staying still - the constant cycle of experimenting, learning, trying, reviewing and then back around again. It is about listening to quality feedback and either accepting or rejecting it (the important thing is to listen to it in the first place). Being authentic is, as cliched as it sounds, about being you - the artist or the photographer (or for me, being both).

It is true that authenticity is challenged in our 'insta world' - where certain looks garner more likes but, if you are like me, and it is more important to live a life that is more true to self than amass likes, here are a three helpful questions to ponder:

  1. Is what you do and say consistent with what you think? Tchiki Davis in an article in Psychology Today suggests that one of the first things we need to do is identify the things that we do and say that we have adapted to 'fit in' and then to ask if these are consistent with our beliefs (I have paraphrased - her work can be found here). In your creative space have you ever felt you have needed to 'conform' to how everyone else is doing something, even though you wanted to do it differently?

  2. What are you afraid of? Social media has driven us to expect feedback from our comment sections or like buttons; this in turn has driven us to fear doing things that will be unpopular. Most of us have experienced some level of disappointment when something we post receives no feedback, it is a normal human response to then modify future posts so that they will receive feedback. Our fear of rejection (or non acceptance) changes the way we create. It is extremely liberating to not give a damn about what people think of your work.

  3. Do you listen to your intuition? Our subconscious is remarkably good at identifying what feels right or wrong to us. How often do you over-ride this to fit in or to do what is expected. Perhaps it's time to give the gut-feeling more credit.

Authenticity takes courage. Copying a tried and true formula that someone else has perfected is not authentic nor is it rewarding. I’m happy to say I’m still on my own authentic and learning journey - not sure where it will end up, but I am happy making the odd mistake. I can put up with the odd bit of ridicule and push-back, being myself is worth it.


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