Some years ago – 14 to be exact, I was shown a replay of an episode from the British reality TV show ‘Faking it’.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it was basically about average members of the public who took leave of their regular lives and trained over a number of weeks in an activity they’d always wanted to succeed in. They were then tested, along with some genuinely experienced participants, in the hope of fooling the judges. Amazingly, most succeeded.
The episode that I was shown, a couple of years into my art programme, featured an ordinary Liverpudlian house painter – Paul O’Hare, who longed to be a fine artist. Over the course of a few months, he trained with various experts in the field and with the exception of one judge (from memory), he fooled a panel of hard-nosed art critics.
As someone fairly fresh on the artistic journey, the episode was a revelation. Here was someone who was severely lacking in artistic ability, but who had the guts and drive to make a go of it. And, that’s just what he did. It changed his life and, in its own way, it changed mine too.
Up until that point, I had been painting in a style and manner that felt ‘fitting’. I watched other painters doing more exciting things in their work and I figured that there was no way I could ‘do that’. I had my way, and they had theirs, and there was nothing to be done about it.
Then I watched ‘Faking it’ and in one fell swoop my whole attitude changed. Why couldn’t I be something different? If Paul O’Hare could do it, then why couldn’t I? I went home, grabbed a small canvas and painted something completely unexpected (see image above).
It may not look like anything particularly astonishing but, trust me, compared to the very straight-laced style I had done up to that point, this little stylized rendition of bottles was revolutionary! The fact that I painted it without an actual still-life set up in front of me was even more remarkable. A few weeks later I entered it into the school exhibition and it sold straight away.
So, what changed for me? I reckon it was because I gave myself permission to try on a different persona. I picked up my paint brush, took a deep breath, and said to myself… ‘Forget who you are, what style you’ve invested in, what people expect of you, and just go for it.’ And, much to my surprise, that’s just what happened! And, it didn’t stop there. From that point on, I felt able to ‘let go’ and take risks and to move outside my self-imposed artistic boundaries. I fearlessly tried on a number of styles and subject areas and eventually found a path that truly resonated.
The take away message here, thanks to Paul O’Hare, is that we can be whomever we want to be. We can, and should, throw caution to the wind and liberate ourselves from any imposed (self or otherwise) labels or ‘truths’. The way I see it, we’re incredibly diverse beings who have the ability to morph and adapt whenever we see fit, not just in art but in life too.
“Metamorphosis is the most profound of all acts.”
Catherynne M Valente