You know this one. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Still so true. And all the more crucial to understand in an age of intense political narcissism where we all follow each other and anyone with an opinion can scream it from the top of the nearest transceiver.
A lot of what passes for art criticism, advice, and instruction consists of people trying to tell you not how to be better, but how to be different. Or rather, how to be the same. Be like us. Adopt our sensibilities, our aesthetic, our theory, our style. We’ve got the answer right here. Be more melodic, more dissonant, more relevant, more obscure, more minimal, more complex, more elegant, more spontaneous. Be more surreal, more concrete, more marketable, more avant guard, more socially conscious, more apolitical. Be grittier, whimsier, bolder, subtler. What we’re saying is, make the kind of art WE want to experience.
I’ve studied under a few great teachers who wanted me to do things differently, and I’ll never regret it because they exposed me to new options and new styles to integrate. But the teachers who made the biggest impact were the ones who made a point to figure out what I was trying to do, then found a way to help me do it better.
If you’re feeling stuck and lost you might need to change things up, but odds are what you really need is more you. Dig deeper into your intuition, push past the voices focusing on everything you’re not. Your energy will be better spent hunting out and cultivating the best possible version of yourself.
Do they tell you your paintings are too colorful, your music is too dark, your writing is too descriptive, your dancing too abstract…? What if the truth is you’re not colorful, dark, descriptive, or abstract enough? What if your voice sounds weak and off key because you aren’t supporting it with your breath, because you’re holding back, because you aren’t singing with all the passion and confidence your song deserves?
Definitely experiment with different styles and methods. Yes, broaden and improve your perspective and versatility. Add counterpoint and context to your work. But at the end of the day all that really matters is your own voice. When you can express it with clarity and sincerity even your antagonists will have to admit…something’s different.