Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Authenticity is not an Easy Choice

Lightworks 1 30x30" Oil on panel ©2015 Janice Mason Steeves

I've written before about courage. Many times actually: at times when I have changed directions in my work, when I have felt vulnerable, and when I moved into abstraction in my painting.

  Before the two advanced painting workshops I taught this past month, I invited the students to send me some suggestions for topics they wished me to address in the workshop. Many wrote to say that they wished for some discussion of authenticity and truth. They wondered how to achieve that.

 Authenticity takes courage. It takes courage to show your art, to open yourself to criticism and rejection, to pick yourself up when things aren't going well. Painting teaches that. Not everyone will like your work. Some will hate it. Others will totally understand it. But opening that way, showing that vulnerability is how you find the truth of who you are. It's saying, "This is who I am." 

Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection says, "Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable."
Choosing authenticity is not an easy decision. e.e. cummings wrote, "To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself––means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight––and never stop fighting."

 To hold to the thread of courage when others aren't interested in our work isn't an easy task. It's difficult to keep on exploring, pushing ourselves in new directions, opening to vulnerability again and again... whew. Makes me wonder why we pursue this work.

Van Gogh had some words regarding that sort of courage. They were posted in Brainpickings, one of my favourite blogs and I read them to the students. In that post, the author quoted from Vincent Van Gogh in his letters to his brother Theo, published in Ever Yours: The Essential Letters:

"If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm — and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.
You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”

Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.
- Mother Theresa


  1. Excellent post, Janice. Fighting our way through the entanglement when either no one cares or someone we do care about sends discouragement; this has been my path for the last year. I become very discouraged but I do not quit. It is a challenge that I'm not sure is ever resolved. The thing is just to keep on with the work which I do.

  2. Good for you to stick with it. Thanks for sharing this Judy.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Kim, so amazing to hear that from such an incredible writer.

    2. So great to have you stabilizing me periodically!

  4. So great to have you stabilizing me periodically!!

  5. Such a poignant blog post Janice. i took several days to read it and have pinned it up in my studio. Where do we find the strength to do this day in day out - life throws us curve balls and plans often go out the window (as does confidence). We suffer from speed wobbles and indecision. The very fact that we feel these emotions shows we are on the right path. What we have today via the internet is finally a chance for artists to connect together and not feel so alone on the journey. Thank you!

  6. HI Nicki,
    So wonderful to hear from you. Thanks so much for writing. Yes, it's so wonderful to have connections with other artists to know we aren't alone on the path!

  7. HI Janice, Just read this incredible post of yours and at a mmoment when I am about to throw myself into the ring again after months of "distractions" of varying natures. Thank you again and always for that strength and straight forwardness that your words always express,great inspiration for me. My best.

  8. The shading on this is very subtle and beautiful. It almost looks pearl and luminescent.