By: Barbara Kang
Growing into adulthood, I cannot help but distress over the notion that everything cannot be simply viewed in binocular lenses: black and white, good and evil, love and hate. There is no disparity, no opposite ends of the spectrums.
Rather, the difference lies in the beliefs and values I choose to live by to create my individualism. Often, I have disliked the idea of being the black sheep or the thought of standing against the popular vote with the fear of alienation. It is inevitable that at one point, the rebellious figures of our society who choose to stand for what they believe in are often chastised or even alienated: the modernist poets, James Dean, or even Vincent Van Gogh. Contradicting this, our society constantly searches for and praises individuals who create fascination within their character or talent—may it be that they are creating a dialogue in the contemporary art world like Duchamp, a transcendentalist poet, or Isaac Newton who led the foundation of modern physics. Nevertheless, those who choose to disobey societal norms and conquer their fear of potential repercussion and rejection have created the most influential contributions to society.
During most of my adolescence, I have contemplated whether exposing my true self to others would cost my relationships. Then, I realized staying authentic to my desires and actions would earn me the most authentic friendships, for those who were attracted to my character would respect me because of this. Staying true to myself is part of my quest aimed towards happiness.
Emerson declares that, “For of one will, the actions will be harmonious, however unlikely they seem…your genuine action will explain itself, and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.” In other words, imitation and conformity render our actions as not our own and undoubtedly destroys us into empty and hollow shells devoid of our own conscience and beliefs. By following and acting based on our values, we develop our most authentic identities. Growing into adulthood, for me, is the development of ideals and selfhood.
Further, I had not realized I have developed a form of resentment towards society and what it identifies as art. An Instagram caption I posted caused an argument between a peer and initiated my own contemplation. I quoted in my caption that my retired mentor had once said, “What is the point in trying to create hyper realistic paintings and drawings. There are photographs for that.” To which my peer replied, “True saying but also said by people that can't create hyper realistic paintings and drawings.” I snapped, “Then again there are plenty of artists that can draw an apple or a bike as realistic as possible. The most prominent, acclaimed artists are differentiated from other artists because they can develop conceptual pieces and execute renderings of objects in their individualistic styles rather than copying exact depictions of objects.”
In all honesty, I was bored, bored out of my mind. I was becoming quite blasé about most of the contemporary scene, the traditional techniques that were being taught at institutions, and the work that was being produced by my colleagues and professors. Although it is becoming extremely difficult for one’s art to stand out above the rest, there should not be any excuse to copy photographs and reproduce the work of other artists. Imitation is a hindrance to our pursuit of authenticity. However, I contradict myself in multitude. I acknowledge the forefathers (rebels) of art since they were executing what others weren't producing, and therefore creating progress and something "new.” I scrutinize their artworks in order to notice and acquire the use of the fine lines and subtleties in which they portray pieces so exclusive to them. Admittedly, one must have technical and foundational skills in order to develop “conceptual” pieces. Plenty of contribution has been already made by our forefathers, so we can only look up to them and reference their works. Since there a plethora of art is constantly produced and has already been produced, it is inevitable that we instinctively compare artworks and notice similarities of certain productions to those that have been already made. Ultimately, this constant dialogue I have with art permits the exploration of content and expression in my own pieces.
To say that my beliefs have not been shaped by social constructs to a certain extent, and the exposure of the work by my forefathers to a certain extent, would be false. In the same way, Emerson argued that society teaches and instills within us a natural distrust of our own thoughts and ideas. Emerson argues to be self-reliant which is toilsome because society is built in such a way as to encourage individuals not to trust themselves. He recognizes the fatality of conformity and imitation, and teaches that opposing society and becoming non-conformists is the key to developing selfhood. One must implement self-reliance and exercise civil disobedience in order to protect individuality and facilitate a constant pursuit towards happiness.