Authenticity Rather than Originality as the Goal of the Progressive Artist

Sitting in a Florence café, drinking Italian coffee, with an unnoticed clammier of comers and goers all around. Across the square I watch the street artists plying their trade; suddenly struck with the notion of originality. Originality or any of its many synonyms; innovation, cutting edge, unique, which have become the sacred cry of contemporary critics, theorists and a great many academics.

As I watched it became apparent that the painters were repeating images with which they have great familiarity. Yet each piece produced by the individual artist working at her or his allotted workspace along the edges of the Piazza del Duomo, is original, done on site at that moment. Each composition appearing unique in and of itself yet accomplished with an awareness that renders each one a remnant of the many previous products composed through time and repetition rather than completely singular in form and concept. These are paintings done not for contemplation but rather to adorn the homes and experiences of Americans, Russians, Japanese or any other visitor.  Tourists, interlopers in this city of myth and magic, history and resurrection who just happened to be walking past these painters looking for a piece of Florence, memories to take back with them to the comfort of their homes and amassment of their friends, and families. The artist mechanic is a highly competent artist lacking the constitutional capacity to resist commercial norms.

All are original and none are original, original in the since lauded by contemporary critiques, post-modern historians and theorists. In their clammier for originality they, the afore mentioned, want the “other,” the yet to be know, that which has no predecessor, the utterly unique. Drawing from the myth of the “different” a notion fabricated for years by the inexperienced for the uninformed.

Because they do not see the component parts or processes that make up the whole only the latest manifestation, they are confused and believe that nothing has precede the finished product. This is a concern with results rather than process. Being uninvolved, existing solely in the status of observer they are incapable of determining the subtle, the nuance of change that has taken place.

Perhaps the notion should be, rather than originality, authenticity, the authentic artist. An artist whose personal creative vision is resists to imposition of commercial demands, gallery interference and cultural norms regarding taste, and genre or any other external restraints. Artists who are authentic will, by the very nature of their artistic practice, be “original,” but not clichéd originality based on the obvious tactic of being different for the sake of difference.