In the past few years we’ve come up with a new fad word. Be authentic! Be real! From politicians to religious leaders, talk show hosts and social media gurus it seems as if we “believe in being authentic as possible”.
I think it’s great, at least the concept is. Who wants a bunch of fake people walking around. But one can’t help wonder with the advent of the digital age has it become more of a ‘calculated authenticity’ then a true reality. Pope Benedict XVI put it well when he said the increasing involvement in online life “inevitably poses questions not only of how to act properly, but also about the authenticity of one’s own being.” He added that “there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.”
That is one of the reasons I love art and I love artists. They have a tendency to be real. That realness comes through their work. It would be extremely challenging and exhasting to create a work of art that is not a direct expression of who you are. Henry Ward Beecher put it well “every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”
One only has to take a cursory look at history and its artists to see the authentcity. Think of the works of Vincent Van Gogh who wrote to his brother Theo, “I put my heart and my soul into my work” and the heartfelt words, “I wish they would only take me as I am.”
Then the works of the lessor know Seraphine de Senlis, a French domestic worker who painted by candlelight after her often difficult day time job. There she found contentment and a purpose for her life, her work a vibrant example of that happiness.
Art truly is the desire of one to express themselves in a most real way. Georgia O’Keeffe found that she “could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other ways – things I had no words for.”
Being authentic takes courage, a great depth of emotional courage. It takes a lot of strength to be who we really are and then to show that realness to all who want to see it, maybe even more so to those that don’t want to see it.
Art may be the most authentic reality of an individual that the world has ever known.