Self-expression. Is there any arena, stage or circumstance where self-expression is not wanted? Where it’s a bad thing?
I think the generations that have preceded us might have given a different answer than we would today. And if there are situations where self-expression is unwanted, we are slowly ushering them out – asking ourselves why, poking the great machine of cultural correctness.
But regardless the answer of that question, our society and culture of this day is striving – no, craving – an age of expression. Immaculate, unadulterated self-expression.
No limits, no boxes. Just pure US.
Of course, this has led us to an age of superficial “authenticity” where we believe we are being our true selves, moving with pure self-expression – but in reality we are only reacting to an innately buried self-centeredness and idealized earnestness in the current “creative consultant” culture. One that makes us acutely aware that if our authentic ‘Self’ is not brand-right, palatable, and marketable, then maybe our authenticity needs some tweaks and nudges from the realms of self-promotion.
But true authenticity moves from a place beyond the idea of social or monetary profit, and beyond the idea that ‘Authentic You’ will be accepted and revered by the masses.
I am led to think that true authenticity is throwing everything – EVERY thing – out the window and just sitting down in front of a mirror. True authenticity is a search of knowing oneself.
Isn’t that what we all want? To make sense of ourselves in this crazy web called life? To find out what is going on in that boney skull of ours? What is driving us, moving us, putting the fire in our belly? To answer the penultimate question of our lives: Who am I?
And I’m not sure we can ever know ourselves authentically – our true mind, soul, heart, spirit, ‘Self’, thoughts, life – without introspection and self-expression.
That’s what I do here. I write so that I might know myself. I write so that I may self-express these strange thoughts, elucidate them, percolate them, and let them fly. For inevitably, they stoke the fire for ever more ideas, thoughts, and creative tangents from the ether.
All so that I might answer the question.
The other day I watched some of the new ‘visual album’ from Beyonce, entitled “Lemonade.” I was awestruck, and it surprised me. I do not count myself a fan of Ms. Bey. She is a cultural icon and entertainment powerhouse to be sure, but I’ve never really given her or her music much thought until that moment.
It struck me while watching that I was witnessing a great art of self-expression. The raw feeling, meticulously pried apart emotions. This is her delving into the darkness – diving into the journey of knowing oneself – however deep or shallow, we might never know… But this is what that journey looks like, and what that journey can sound like.
And I thought to myself: this might be the only way we can make sense of that journey and the thoughts, feelings, pain, happiness, and sorrows that inhabit us – the deepest parts of us. That the only way for us to process these disparate things and make them whole in us again is through the arrow of self-expression.
[[I do entertain the possibility that the entirety of “Lemonade,” complete with Jay-Z and poet laureate collaboration, could very well be a carefully constructed corporate ruse to make big bucks with an audience that is foaming at the mouth for authenticity. I recognize that – and would laugh pretty hard at the irony if that is the truth! ]]
But in the name of self-expression, aside from all the corporate greed and cultural trends that might drive our lives, I wish to encourage everyone to go out there and get to know the true You. Reach for it. Ask tough questions. Sit with your own comforting and disquieting gaze. Listen to the small voice – the meek one – that is drowned out by expectation and cultural constructs. The small song of the heart strings.
Some musicians make music for the masses and the money. Some purely for the sake of music. And some make it to reach for something beyond themselves… But most artists, first and foremost, make music – or any art – for themselves. To know themselves, to work through their shit in a glorious cascade of self-expression, to spring forward in perpetual renewal.
And perhaps that is why we flock to those artists who can do this so honestly. We see their raw authenticity, even if we cannot outright recognize it. We crave it. We devour it. We appropriate it. We want it for ourselves so badly. A way to know, a way to answer the question of all questions: Who am I?
I cannot condemn or dismiss any art or artist who is putting forth the effort and diving deep into self-expression. For they are being courageous. They are choosing the inner path. They are exploring that last unknown territory that we all yearn to face, but cannot articulate – yet alone consciously choose.
Introspection, reflection, self-expression. All leading down to the final destination: A never-ending, undefined, loving expanse – Authentic YOU.
“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson