by Natalie van Sambeck
“To make art is to sing with the human voice. To do this you must first learn that the only voice you need is the voice you already have” This pearl of wisdom, which came from the book Art and Fear, reminds us that being an artist means we must speak our own truth. But what is our own truth? At its core, our own truth is intrinsically intertwined with identity, which begs the age old question “Who am I?” We tend to define this in terms of physical characteristics, social roles, and personal characteristics but is that who we really are?
According to psychologist, Bruce Hood, we only exist through a pattern of multiple influences that shape our lives. Pluck away at each influence and we cease to exist. Think of all the external influences that have touched our lives such as parents, friends, teachers, hobbies, or work. All of these aspects have made lasting impressions on us and once combined they form our whole sense of self. These impressions are created through memories and experiences, which are then strung together to create a cohesive narrative; our own personal myth.
However, our own story isn’t actually grounded in any reality. Instead, they follow a story line with our self as the star. Being the writer of our own story becomes problematic because it leaves room for an abundance of self distortions. We mold ourselves into what we think we should be, which is based by our external influences. Meanwhile, we conveniently leave out the parts that do not fit our idealized self.
What’s even more startling is that our own unique personal myths are not actually as unique as we lead ourselves to believe. Our uniqueness is actually more common ground or average in the broader spectrum. Yet we believe we are smarter, funnier, more attractive and nicer than the average person.
Don’t believe me? Take a look in the mirror. What do you see? Instantly we recognize that face as our own but we believe that this is just our external body. Deep down we believe there is more to our self. We feel it at our core. If asked where this feeling of self originates from we would all probably answer somewhere in between and above our eyes. This sensation has us believing we are unique and above average, that our body is just a vessel for the soul.
But what if that was all just an illusion perpetuated by the brain? What if we are merely reflections of our external world? This reflected self would be completely unaware that the self is an illusion simply because we can’t see that we change according to different external influences.
This is largely because we are bombarded by so much information that the brain would be overwhelmed if it had to process all of it. Instead, the brain filters through what it deems as unnecessary and keeps what it feels is important. This filtering mechanism is no different from the filtering software used in a google search. A google search engine will yield different results for different users even when they use the same keyword to search. The filtering system is based on a profile of variables relating to the specific user. In order to be able to sift through countless information, the software selects what it thinks we want to see. The brain operates in the same way only the personalization is based off external factors that influence us.
While we aren’t as different as we think we are, that doesn’t mean that we are all the same either. But we do all share a common thread that is truly undeniable. Take a look at the OCEAN approach to assessing personality traits. OCEAN stands for Openness (to try new things) , conscientiousness (self-discipline), extraversion (social interaction), agreeableness (willingness to help others), and neuroticism (self-centered worry). Otherwise called the Big Five, this approach is the most commonly accepted personality assessment in psychology. Studies reveal that our assessments change depending on the different situations or roles we assume, which supports the idea that the self is an illusion. Even more startling is that when viewed in groups, the individuals were consistent in which factors were predominate when changing roles, and thus supports that we are not as different as we think we are.
I’m sure your reading this either in complete agreement or total denial, wondering what’s the point? You thought I was talking about finding one’s voice as an artist and are now wondering how I ended up in a lengthy debate on how the brain creates a sense of self? I’ll finally get to the point. As artists we must create work that speaks our own “unique” voice and we can only do this by telling our own personal myth. The more personal we are with our artwork, the more success we have in reach a larger audience.
Suddenly our work is more relatable when we voice our own unique narrative. Why? Because we aren’t as different as we think we are. Sure we have variations in our experiences, but they are more universal than we realize. At the end of the day we are human beings that share a common thread holding us all together; the experience of existing. So create meaningful art that sings us a song with your unique voice. Speaking your own truth will inadvertently touch a larger audience on a deeper level.
 Hood, Bruce. The Self Illusion. How the Social Brain Creates Identity. Oxford University Press. Oxford, New York, 2102. Print.
 Bayles, David and Ted Orland. Art & Fear. Image Continuum. Santa Cruz, CA, 2001. Print.