As I write, reflect, watch and create my way through my graduate studies, I've discovered an increasing frequency of the word authentic popping up in my writing.
Why? Authenticity is the most important quality in my interaction with art, a constant goal for my own practice, and subsequently a lens through which I view performance.
Why this blog post? As I recently thought about a personal definition for the word, I realized that while I value it to the same high degree in both creation and performance, I define it differently for each of these situations.
Yes, this is what life is like when your full-time job is pursuing an MFA.
Authenticity in Creation
To me, authentic in terms of the creative process means the artist is finding genuine ways to express what needs to be said in message, medium and means.
If you didn't catch on, this is an opinion piece. I don't intend any judgment against those who don't agree or work in this way, nor do I practice what I preach without fail every now and then.
The message, what your art attempts to say, is something one cares about, believes in, stands behind; even the exploration of a sudden interest in a new idea can count. The passion and care for the message should carry through as you create, even if you get into a rut or fall in and out of love with any part of the piece itself. In theory (and I have a long career ahead to test this, let's check in a couple of decades down the road), the authenticity behind and commitment to the message could even be the jury for what stays and what goes. What truly fits what you're trying to say? Is there an actual need for the extraneous stuff besides not wanting to cut things time was spent on making? Perhaps you're making work about extraneous stuff; then, I suppose, it would stay. Bring on the high kicks and confetti.
When thinking about authenticity in terms of medium I don't mean one should fiercely commit to a sole genre, or the pursuit of showcasing stellar technique (to be honest I think sometimes technique gets in the way of expression, though it's a good thing to have in one's toolkit). What I believe is that the medium should be the best possible vehicle for the message. Even if it's five different genres delivered at once, or a painstakingly crafted classical ballet abandoned for throat singing, or simply standing in an empty space and reading a letter.
I view means as the logistical process of making a piece, and it's easy to stay on track here; either make the piece with full effort, or don't. It's usually evident (as a viewer) when the maker stopped caring about their work, or perhaps ran out of time for a particular section or component. If you don't care to make something to the best of your current ability, why should someone care to watch it?
While my rambling thoughts could continue forever, it's this trifecta of message, medium and means, all carefully attended to, that makes an authentic piece. (Though I bet we can think of more important m-words if we try...)
In performance, I define authenticity as embodiment on both a mental and physical level. Authentic is the performer that finds the reason to be truly present onstage, the reasons for doing the action they've been given to do and finding a new and genuine interest in doing it multiple times. It's a serious skill; you know you're watching such a high caliber performer when you can't look away. I'm not entirely sure how this works outside of theatre, dance, or forms where the human body delivers the content directly. I would be curious to know how this exists for those that perform through an instrument.
Authentic performance can be informal as well. I personally don't enjoy 'performing', but I do love to move. Lately when I'm improvising or moving without agenda, I try to match my mind to my body, following physiological impulses and making them into an internal dialogue, or my body to my mind, letting the thoughts that roll through my mind influence how my body corresponds. Very similar to authentic movement, but in my case the internal choreographer is sporadically distracted by aesthetic as I move.
That's all I've got on authenticity, for now. It was important for me to personally define what it means for art to be authentic as I carry on looking for it in my own work and that of others, historic and contemporary. If you got through the entire thing, congrats!
What is YOUR single most important quality in making, performing or viewing of art?