Who am I: a quest for artistic identity

When considering how to express oneself in any creative domain, it is natural to seek the opinion of others. Artists need mentors, and external validation may provide encouragement in competitive and uncertain fields. But is it counterproductive to the very nature of creativity to seek another person’s approval?

Image by Peter H

Authenticity

It takes courage to be genuine, especially if your choices are not trendy or they don’t satisfy the status quo. Ask yourself what kind of artist you wish to be? Try to refrain from listing the expectations that others have of you in whatever creative domain you practice.

Instead, start by asking yourself what is it you want to say? What do you believe in? What have you lived through that’s worth expressing through your art? If you start with what you know to be true about yourself and the life you’ve lived, this is a productive way to begin creating authentic art.

I’ve recently revisited one of my favourite books and it still affects me today. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes a series of letters to aspiring poet Franz Xaver Kappus between 1903 to 1908. While there are powerful verses in the ten letters, the first letter is, in my opinion, the most profound in its wisdom and humility.

In the first letter Rilke writes “you ask whether your poems are good. You send them to publishers; you compare them with other poems; you are disturbed when certain publishers reject your attempts. Well now, since you have given me permission to advise you, I suggest that you give all that up. You are looking outward and, above all else, that you must not do now. No one can advise and help you, no one.”

Initially, this seems like curt critique, however, there is a refreshing truth in what Rilke writes to Kappus and I only wish that more creative people were given this advice early in their careers.

Intuition

If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty – nothing is insignificant or unimportant.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, writer

Within each person there lies an inner child with a vivid imagination. As we grow older, this child may become dormant, suppressed by our life’s choices. We have the choice to bring our inner child to life and reinvent ourselves whenever we feel the need to, but the desire to fit in may be stifling your creative expression. Listen to your intuition; what is it telling you to create? Trust it.

Beneath the sheen and glamour, there is a loneliness that comes with being truly creative. While there is merit in collaboration, solitude is a necessary part of one’s creative process and it suits some more than others. With solitude comes stillness. As the noise of the world dissipates it is easier to hear one’s internal monologue and channel the intuitive nature within.

This is what Rilke explains to Kappus, “There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to the test: Does this stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write?

“Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, ‘I must,’ then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.”

So who are you? You are inimitable. Rather than spend your precious time comparing yourself with your fellow creatives, who have their own story to tell, celebrate them, but put your energy into your own creations. Your life story is your own. Only you will know the ways to best express this in the world. Create out of necessity rather than validation and you will access your most authentic voice.

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