Post by Amy Middleton.
‘Authenticity’ is a word frequently flung around in conversation. I approach the term with caution when explored within the context of arts practise because it poses a contradiction. The devil on one shoulder shouts provocations of revolt, inciting me to use my creativity to bark in the face of (authentic) artistic tradition. The angel on the other shoulder beckons the use of art to pursue creative earnestness and genuine expression. Potentially both interpretations are correct. How do we begin to understand our authentic creative selves when the pressure to justify our practise is measured against a raft of other agencies?
Such was the subject of a conversation I recently had with Dawna Richardson-Hyde. As well as being a prolific visual artist, Dawna also leads a series of Professional Development workshops for artists. Dawna’s advice to all artists is to take your practise seriously and be intentional about focusing on what your creative purpose is. She explains that, “While people are stimulated by different things including political causes, their environment or beautiful objects, the process of creating authentic artwork can be applied to all makers; you need to know what you want to say and what tools you will use to say it.”
I connect with this sentiment but find it difficult to move away from creating products that hold commercial worth, or projects that massage the interest of funding bodies. There is a balance to be manipulated between making work that serves our authentic creative passions, and those that pay the bills. Perhaps for the purpose of this short blog, we can pretend that our basic financial needs are met, and we are on a journey to discover how life and art (creativity) become more closely aligned.
Dawna recently returned from leading a weeklong residency in East Gippsland exploring The Artists Journey. This series of workshops tackle many of the battles artists struggle with including how to combat creative block, the design processes, understanding what kind of artist you are, naming fears, managing distractions and time management. It became clear to me that the depth and richness I see in her artwork is drawn from a deep well of experience and commitment to her creative purpose. I am also very aware of how generous she is to share this with others.
Dawna and I also dialogued about the importance of solitude for artists. She said. “The time you dedicate to being alone in your studios will help bring focus to your practise.” Dawna also shared how she has seen ‘technique surfers’ spend a lot of time learning new mediums, attending workshops and they become very accomplished, but never discover what they want to say because they are too busy emulating how other people work. The longer I chatted to Dawna, the more I became aware of how much knowledge she had, and how empowering it can be for artists to understand themselves more deeply.
Upon reflection on my time with Dawna I realised that the pursuit for authenticity is very healthy. (Even though it remains an indefinable concept in my mind!) If you get the opportunity to attend one of Dawna’s workshops I would strongly recommend it. Having spent just one hour with her, I already feel a shift in how I will approach my practise. I understand that the layered contradictions offered up by this illusive concept are integral to the dialogue imbedded within my current work. There also seems little point trying to measure the value of your art practice against the other elements that add busyness or richness to our lives. Art is the sum of all these things.