Authenticity and Individuality in the Arts
Updated: Sep 24, 2022
I am probably not the only one who was forced into the direction of "safe" while pushing my creativity and passions aside for the sake of finding a decent career that would fulfill me. Truth is, you never lose your ability to want to be creative. I find ways to fill my passions by immersing myself in art, music, theater or finding things in my work to help create individuality. Artists and musicians do it all the time, and so can you. What you might find as the recipient of the arts in viewing or experiencing it will be unique to each individual. Answers to questions about yourself or your life that you had been wondering about may become visible. It is truly authentic when you can take a look at yourself deeply through the work of others who might have had different intentions with their painting or song.
A scenario like this is common, and I only hope that even those who enter a field of intense work and skill, can also find ways outside of it to be creative or find an optimal experience that makes them happy. You can bring a part of who you are authentically into anything you choose to do, whether that is in your daily work, or through hobbies. Trust in yourself that where you are at this moment is where you should be, live your life authentically and you will find things that bring out your creativity. The hard part is finding the courage to go against the grain and continue on the flow of what makes your heart happy. I started this writing project so that I can create something that might eventually fuel a passion of mine. I am always inspired by people who are out there doing things no matter how they categorize their trade, because it teaches me things—so much like a musician or artist, I am painting my picture to help others.
With a huge love of the arts and music I have begun to look at it as it relates to fashion, or trend forecasting. In this pursuit, I saw many commonalities to individuals who were individually creative and started trends while doing so. If we look at this from a cultural perspective, most people grow within a particular group, then sometimes break away to be their own individual and sometimes even start or belong to a sub-culture. It is important to look to the root of what culture is to help decipher why we tend to identify and build trends from it. There might be many different cultures, sub-cultures, tribes and groups that adhere to the same lifestyle, but in that you could understand there is still much to say about individuality and authenticity that helps form something creative.
The Visible Self by Joanne B. Eicher, Sandra Lee Evenson, and Hazel A. Lutz discusses individuality and fashion from a range of topics, but I found culture to be the most interesting, and how we are formed into society by way of the culture we were raised in. Their study of culture focuses attention on those behaviors shared by a group of people who regularly interact with each other. The book defines culture as the "human-made material items and patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior shared by members of a group who regularly interact with each other." To examine this, I looked at material and form of dress within music and art, to how we can identify trends in style within the specific dress of musicians or artists. Even if you weren't raised in a particular culture, a person can take an interest in music and art and identify so strongly with it that their connection becomes their way of life. When your interests peak, you form a liking to all parts of the musician or artist, their persona and along with it, the identity to which they form by way of their fashion choices. You can find your own creative self by your interests in music and art that helps to establish you as part of a group that identifies with a particular trend. This real, authentic self you have created is seen by others as a sub-culture, and so by maintaining your sense of self, you conform to the group and therefore are part of a trend even if you didn't intend to be.
The other individual they focus on are the people who are leaders in the space, such as a musician or an artist or any creative individual who doesn't conform to any style, yet is individualistic enough to inspire others. The authors relate conformity and individuality to the art of dress and fashion, and the idea of swiftly changing styles. "Fashion is part of both material and non-material examples of culture. Fashion is an important part of understanding nonverbal communication across all types of societies and cultures. The classic writers on fashion consistently point out the tension between wanting to be like others in appearance and wanting to stand apart. Fashion leaders are an example of both conforming and being an individual. This is how trends start. As this individual selects certain trends in design and rejects others, that individual serves as a fashion leader. When an individual enjoys the art of dress, achieving personal distinction from other social associates may become a challenge. As individuals make conscious clothing selections and manipulate and interpret fashion details, they may see themselves as having achieved individuality. Those people outside the particular social group to which the individuals belong, however, may view members of the group as looking alike, even identical in dress, for the outsiders are not usually sensitive to the details important within the group." Artists and musicians are fashion leaders in my view, so there can be much to gain from zeroing in on their style of dress as it relates to their art form.
The independence and creativity of an artist or musician is to develop a personal image through the use of costume elements that transcended fashion. The book also discusses a few women painters who by "Their 'signature style' also related to their philosophy of art and paralleled their create endeavors to help bring female presence to the visual arts." Georgia O'Keefe is known for paintings of enlarged flower forms, desert landscapes and natural elements. "This same 'paring down' to essential shapes and forms characterized her dress as well, which was dominated by stark black and white shapes capturing the essence of form. She grew up on the frontier and sought independence and solitude from the beginning, with a love of the land, and this imagination also held onto her insistence of wearing her own style and not dress like others. Numerous accounts attest to her preference for plain, dark or black clothing alternating with white in the summer. With an emphasis on basic, fundamental forms in her art, it led her to prefer simple shapes for her clothing and personal appearance. She believed that, in order to paint, she felt she needed simplicity around her, to help keep her head clear and uncluttered. Georgia had sewn most of her own clothes out of the finest fabrics, often sewing when she wanted time to think. She made blouses from luxurious white silk, white cotton nightgowns with white embroidery and petticoats edged with white lace." To learn more about the life and work of Georgia O'Keefe, listen to this interesting podcast.
Frida Kahlo is another artist whom the book describes as having her own individualistic style in painting and dress by way of her series of 55 self portraits. "In these works, the combination of surrealistic imagery, her Mexican heritage and her political beliefs were synthesized and symbolized through costume elements. Her strong feminist stance also played a role. In every facet of life, Kahlo took a stance of defiance-against conventions of behavior and dress, against circumscribed roles for women, against foreign imperialism and political oppression and finally against pain, illness and death." Her use of the Tehuana Mexican costume dating from 1929 after her marriage at age 22 was combined with other indigenous elements-especially jewelry made from fragments of Aztec and Mayan beads to capture and express her political support for the Mexican populist movement. Over and over again in life and in her paintings she portrayed herself in the dramatic costume of her Mexican heritage, the long embroidered frilled dresses and fringed shawls (rebozos) characteristic of the Tehuantepec region of Mexico, a region known for its strong matriarchal culture. Her artwork was associated with the popular Mexican 'retablos' or votive paintings which a stage in the traged of the victim is illustra. In The Two Fridas (1939), she wears a Victorian lace blouse reminiscent of that worn by her own mother and grandmother, and contrasts it with a relatively simple, bold Tehuana-style dress. In both paintings her costume is idiosyncratic, combining rustic, populist, old-fashioned, folkish and historical elements' into a deliberately individual look. The individualistic nature of her costume parallels her artwork and reflects a synthesis of personal philosophy, values, and a clear understanding of the legacy she would leave. As it became synonymous with her self-image, it enabled Kahlo to achieve and control her construction of self as both subject and object. In this synergy, it became part of her self-affirming iconography." Details of her life and work can be found on this organization's website.
When looking at the individual while understanding a culture, we can then formulate ideas on how a trend begins when multiple people come together as a group. Anthropologists point out that large societies are composed of many smaller sections or groups called subcultures. People in each of these groups within a society do not always agree with members of other groups about values, meanings, and cultural forms. I wanted to take a closer look at the authenticity of a sub-culture, form a more philosophical view. In Lars Svendsen's book Fashion: A Philosophy he quotes Lipovetsky, "Subcultures normally cultivate individuality, but in that respect they are completely in accordance with mass-culture. New subcultures create new fashions and trends that are taken up by industry. Subcultures or counter-cultures have become the best friend of fashion and capital."
What I think this can bring up for people as it has for me, is that being witness to the performer who puts their heart, energy and soul into their talent. Look further, and you can see a sub-culture emerging where followers dress, act or even identify with. As in 1977 when the punk culture rose, was before they were ever a focus on dress. Svendsen's book also views this part of culture as it relates to fashion. "From the fashion perspective, there is no real opposition between a counter-culture and what already exists. Everything can be incorporated, as when the former junkie William S. Burroughs appeared in Nike advertisements, and Gap used pictures by Jack Kerouac in ads for trousers. All the worlds rebels will, if their revolt manages to reach beyond a limited environment, end up seeing their style reproduced in exquisite materials and at high prices. If we look at how advertisements are designed, until the early 1960's they had to a great extent to do with 'conforming' since when they have dealt to an increasing extent with not conforming, with being a 'rebel' and an 'individualist' The slogan in an advertisement for Hugo Boss urges: 'Don't imitate, Innovate! What is innovative apparently, is to buy goods from Boss. But how innovative is that, really?"
Now that we move onto a more digital focused world, trend forecasters and the students who study trends will need to look for clues through the Internet. I recently found the book Hip-hop Authenticity and the London Scene by Laura Speers in which she did an anthropological study on the hip-hop scene in London to question authenticity for rappers since the music genre started in the states. I found some interesting points when it came to authenticity through digital platforms because as a researcher you must identify the original and authentic. Her study ultimately linked authenticity to the hip-hop seen as individualistic. "The study demonstrates how authenticity is dependence on, and related to, the changing societal context (globalization, capitalism, migration and digitalization. "If ones online life an extension to the offline world, or are exaggerated personas more prevalent. Are authenticity practices similar or different according to varying online platforms? Is authenticity more or less of an issue when there is no 'physical' presence: These types of questions call for further research concerning authenticity online and also the tactical/strategic nature of media practices. The Internet readily offers a public space to assert belonging yet individuality. Through a wide array of digital tools and resources, such as text, pictures, videos, links and emoticons, people can present a particular image of themselves, which importantly is editable. Social networking sites thus feed our need to feel connected in an increasingly disconnected world. However this 'connectivity' is often illusory and can result in greater alienation, which highlights a further negative side to digitalization." Humans are always in states of being and becoming. this means we are changing society as much as society is changing us in that we reproduce and transform ourselves every day.
"Hip-hop is often heralded as a 'resistant' or counter-cultural phenomenon because it can provide a voice to marginalized communities and is fearless in highlighting inequalities and problems in society, most commonly race relations and politics. The commercialization of hip-hop has made many commentators cynical about hip-hop's potential as a voice for the oppressed. But it depends where one places the central components of authenticity-- is it in the music, the person, the message, the record label or between all of them? The value laden dimension of authenticity means that in light of the relationship between hip-hop and capitalism, artists want to give the impression of not selling out which then produces the authenticity of the style and look of that subculture. Rappers want to be authentic in terms of being able to perform well, move a crowd and have strong lyrical content. The theme around 'rapper authenticity' versus 'hip-hop' authenticity can be re-articulated as personal versus social, or self versus collective. Reframed in this way, it is a useful tool in understanding where we have to negotiate rules or conventions imposed by a particular group of people or establishment. For example, a young persons individual sense of self can be challenged by schools or universities regulating their behavior; one's place of work has an expected code of conduct; and the church, temple or mosque have particular rules an conventions. Additionally, in home life, as one grows up, families can have expectations at odds with ones own interests and motivations. Modern life seems underpinned by a sense of conflict and uncertainty in wanting to belong and craving connectedness, whilst also seeking a 'true' self and individuality. It is in these challenging circumstances, where our sense of self conflicts with that of our family, or immediate social environment, and where we feel we are not being recognized as our 'true' selves, or we need to temporarily adopt the values of a place we work, that authenticity becomes most visible."