The Art of Self-Expression

As our readers know, we love talking about self-expression through style. We also love tackling misconceptions and myths that create blocks for people who wish to convey their essence with the help of style.

One such myth is the idea that many of us cannot express our inner essence through style because we have too many limitations (body type, weight, money, etc). It’s a very widespread misconception, and it is the direct result of the astonishing amount of negative conditioning that we receive on a daily basis, both from the outside world, and from our inner critics.

When I set out to debunk this particular myth, I realized that the art world offers a helpful example. Artists usually have one, or several, preferred tools and methods to create their art. But when an artist conceives a piece, his or her inspiration is not derived from, or limited by, those tools. Artists are inspired and captivated by an idea or object; their tools are then used as skillfully as their talent and experience allow to portray that idea or object in their art. Artists do not allow their creativity to be dictated, or limited, by their methods or circumstances. This is a great example to the rest of us. Artists never blame their tools, and neither should we.

To illustrate my point, I’m using the example of Frida Kahlo, a famous artist and a woman renowned both for her stunning art and for her complex personality. Let’s see how successfully her essence has been depicted in art, both by herself and by other artists paying homage to her.

Frieda was a beautiful, sensual woman, who was very talented, strong, independent, and opinionated; she was also intelligent and a lover of politics, symbolism, and philosophy. She poses quite a challenge! If we want to express her richness and boldness, with a hint of darkness, oil on canvas seems a good choice. She often used this medium herself:

This is a great example of a person’s essence, and the tools used to express it, being effortlessly and naturally matched. But, say we don’t have oil paints. What if we use acrylic?

This is an homage to Frida. The colors are still breathtaking; the richness of her personality is coming through loud and clear. Still pretty easy, eh? How about another homage, in watercolor?

Different, but still successful. It’s safe to argue that our tools are still giving us a wide range of possibilities. So, let’s imagine that we don’t have access to all those gorgeous colors. Will not having the “ideal” tools mean that we’ll be giving up? Of course not! How about we just take a simple black and white photo with an old-fashioned camera and see what happens:

Stunning. Still complex, sensuous, bold. And yet, not a hint of color anywhere. Instead, the artist used shadows, layers, texture, and of course, the beautiful Frida’s real life face to convey her essence.

Still think the artist had it easy? Ok. Let’s make it as basic as possible. Let’s imagine that we only have  a pencil and a piece of paper. This is as bare as it gets. There’s no way an artist can express Frida’s glorious complexity using those basic tools, right?

Wrong. Her face is more severe and sculpted, but the textured, layered richness of the portrait captures the correspondent richness of her essence, and her intensity. Let’s try another one:

Beautiful. Deceptively simple, yet infinitely complex; you expect this Frida to lift her head and smile, a little sadly. Her soul shines through her eyes in this simple portrait.

Here’s the final one—by Frida’s own hand. Just pencil and paper, and yet the result is more rich, layered, and beautiful than many oil paintings I’ve seen:

I hope this example helped show you that the idea that we can’t dress in a way that honors who we are because we don’t have the right bodies, bank accounts, or lifestyles, is fiction, pure and simple. When we buy into it, we give in to fear and insecurity, and give up before we even started. Imagine if Frida Kahlo or other artists said, “We can only work with oil paint, because there is no way pencil and paper can convey what we’re trying to express.  We’re not even going to try”? The world would be missing some stunning, priceless works of art. You may say that it’s easier to be creative with a talent like Frida’s, and you’d be partly right; in art, talent is paramount. The good news for us is that we don’t need to be amazingly talented to create authentic works of art within ourselves. We only need to connect with our inspiration. Instead of using our limited tools as an excuse, we need to learn how to wield them in a way that will support that inspiration fully. That’s when our true essence will be expressed through style.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting examples of translating inspiration into style, using the vision boards created by our readers as part of the Make It Real challenge. Stay tuned!

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2 responses to “The Art of Self-Expression

  1. I really appreciate your using art to demonstrate essence and style. I’m looking forward to seeing how this all comes together. Pat

  2. Pingback: Lovely Links: 9/7/12·

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