As an artist the most difficult yet most important lesson to learn is how to overcome fear and how to be authentic to yourself and your art. Speaking from experience and observation as a former art professor and an artist, most budding creatives explore their creativity by mimicking other artists who inspire them. As one grows as an artist and as one wants to continue to progress, the time arrives to stop mimicking and break out into one's own style and authentic expression.
Every artist goes through this learning process and roller coaster of emotion, and to get through this process successfully I would like to offer you some suggestions to help you get through this. First ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I doing "this" (art, craft, etc.)?
- When I'm looking at other artists' work, do I feel inspired or depressed and frustrated?
- Am I so frightened of failure that I don't even want to begin, or risk messing up materials?
- Am I so occupied with creating something unique that I'm not able to come up with anything, and cannot start?
If you answer these questions in a negative way you're at the turning point to defining your authentic creative self. While I was in art school I asked myself all of these questions and I was experiencing these debilitating emotions. I remembered a scripture from the Bible: Ecclesiastes 1:9 - "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be: and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." I realized that authenticity isn't in reinventing the wheel: What is unique is my execution, not necessarily the invention of something new itself. The manner in which I create is new and the feeling of enlightenment, release, and motivation kick starts inspiration and creative thinking can flow. Facing fear, jumping into what is unknown to you is when your work begins to take shape and starts to become your own.
Being afraid to try and afraid to fail means that you'll never even take the first step. We have a friend who started playing the ukulele. Then someone showed him a video of Jake Shimabukuro, and the thought ran through our friend's head, "I'll never be that good", so he quit playing. (Check-out THIS video of Jake Shimabukuro playing Crazy G, and even talking a bit about being authentic to his craft.) I bet if our friend were to talk to Jake Shimabukuro, he would find him encouraging and helpful, but perhaps appalled that our friend had stopped playing because of a baseless comparison.
All beginners start out emulating someone else, however, limiting yourself to only what you have seen done is not being authentic. Copying someone else's work is a great way to learn technique but if you never get beyond copying, you're nothing more than a glorified Xerox machine, and your work will suffer and cannot progress into what it could be. We've had to ask ourselves these sorts of questions, since being historical binders, our job is to emulate what has been done before. But how can we still be original and authentic to ourselves? We make a lot of our own tools, we draw up our own designs for finish work, and the end result-craftsmanship- is our own. Little details only we know about and do because we've perfected them over time with many hours of practice show in the end result. The authenticity is not in what we're emulating, but in the specific skill to perfect what we're emulating. A client of ours has a rather large book collection and works with several different binders. He can look at a specific book and tell what binder bound it by comparing differences in the craftsmanship and finish work detail. All of his books are historical bindings, yet all look and even feel different, they show the hand of the their maker and that hand is the work's authenticity.
Doubt isn't entirely bad: Self evaluation should never totally disappear, but should be used as a tool to drive you to always do better. Too much doubt is crippling, however, too much confidence can turn one into an arrogant artist, and possibly incapable of progressing.
Shakespeare said, "to thine own self be true". The core of authenticity is learning who you are and being honest about who you are. Will you ever be as good a photographer as Ansel Adams, or as great a painter as Diego Velasquez? Who knows! Probably not! But who cares: That's the wrong question to be asking in the first place. The correct question is: Am I the best photographer or painter I can be? Am I making something that is a true expression of who I am?