I spent a week in New York City this month. The topic of Authenticity vs. Influences was something on my mind as I saw original artworks by some of my art heroes. I saw a piece by Helen Frankenthaler, several Cezanne's and Berthe Morisot's. Frankly, I am still processing all the art we saw in just three museums in New York City. I have been thinking about how to incorporate the art that inspired me into my own style of art. Still a work in progress.
Here is my original article.
The phrase, Be Authentic. What does it really mean? In my mind, it just means being who you really are. It means you aren't trying to emulate other people or forcing yourself to act a certain way. You do what feels natural to you.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. Why? I do not know. Because being yourself seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world. Authenticity applies to all aspects of our lives. How you live your life, your career, hobbies, food you eat, etc. In the creative world, many artists go through phases where they're a little "too attached" to their influences. I know I have. My son pointed out to me that on one of the band Cream's songs, Eric Clapton mimicked an Albert King guitar riff note-for-note. This does not mean he was plagiarizing him. But Albert King is one of his influences.Clapton listened to all the early blues and rock musicians. Even as accomplished as Eric Clapton was and is, his influences came through. Eric Clapton's guitar playing has such an authentic sound, I can tell it is him playing with just a few notes into a song.
Using your Influences as a stepping stone to authenticity seems like a natural progression. You have to start somewhere. You gravitate to things that you naturally align with. Take it for a spin. See how it feels. And then evolve from that. This all makes sense. I do not think I could've gone directly in to my current abstract designs without evolving into them.
For a while, I would not look at other people's quilts or art online because I was concerned about unconsciously adopting other people’s style. Now I know that if being authentic is your goal, you are not going to mimic other people's art. You will emulate lots of influences in your own unique blend and take it from there.
In the book I'm currently reading, What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art, the author, Will Gompertz, says
If 10 people were to stand on a hill and take a photograph of the same view, using the same camera, the results would be near identical. If the same 10 people sat down for a few days and painted that view, the result would be markedly different. Not because one individual might be a more accomplished artist then another. But owing to the nature of humans: we can all look at the same view, but we don't see quite the same thing. We bring our own unique mix of prejudices, experiences, tastes and knowledge to any given situation, informing how we interpret what is before us. We'll see the things we find interesting and ignore those we don't. Page 80.
Everyone will come up with different things because of the way they see the world.
When I approach my current series, the Four Elements: Fire, Air, Water and Earth, I see landscapes broken down into their elemental geometric forms. I can look out at the prairie in our backyard and see geometric shapes such as green horizontal rectangles for the land with orange and yellow vertical rectangles for flowers and vertical blue rectangles for glimpses of the blue sky. I use these design ideas in my current Earth series.
The section in What are You Looking at? on the artist Paul Cézanne was particularly fascinating to me. Gompertz states that Pablo Picasso called Paul Cézanne “the father of us all.” Paul Cézanne opened the door to modernism. He apparently also thought you could break landscapes into basic shapes like spheres, cones and cylinders. Not to compare myself with Paul Cézanne, but to make my point, we both looked at landscapes and saw geometric shapes with obviously very different outcomes in our art. He saw 3D shapes of cylinders and cones and spheres. I see a very flat 2D version with squares, rectangles and lines. The idea may be similar, but again another outcome.
So now I no longer concern myself with worry over mimicking other's art. My daughter and I went to the Madison art show this past weekend. I enjoyed seeing all the different creative expressions in all the different mediums. I was inspired by some of the bright colors and abstract oil paintings and woven hand blown glass pieces.
I can see all these as influences in my art. But at the same time I can realize my art is an authentic expression of how I see the world.
If you are interested in art history from Impressionism to Modern Art, I highly recommend this book What are You Looking at? by Will Gompertz for its conversational style full of good stories about the artists and how one style of art leads to the next.