Perception and Authenticity: Exploring the Sustainability Cycle


One of the biggest differences I’ve observed between Arts and Business is the continued audacity of the business mindset.  While art sends shockwaves through our culture now and again (e..g. Lady Gaga’s meat suit), big business has not only penetrated our government, it controls much of our personal lives (e.g. banking, employment, even our non-profits!).  Business has systematized its sustainability while the Arts are just starting to define what that means.  

And really, sustainability, branding, and even commerce in the Arts, is different than business.  The Sustainability Cycle for the Arts comprises my three favorite values: Exploration, Inclusion, Evolution.  Exploration is the freedom to discover the unknowable; Inclusion assumes a mutual respect, prohibits judgment, and opens the door to the unthinkable; Evolution allows for every knowable thing to change indefinitely.  This completes a circle that should never stop.

But artists can not master the Sustainability Cycle without understanding perception and authenticity.  To demonstrate, we’re going to create something out of nothing!  How do you do that?  Well...define something...then define nothing.  Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder right?  I’m talking about how perception shapes reality.

That might sound like marketing.  After all, you can sell even the dullest product by attaching sexy messaging to it.  Throw some avocado into a rat’s mouth and CNN reports a celebrity hipster rat!  But the only way to combat a materialistic, exploitative culture is by employing the antithesis: authenticity.  So let’s steer clear of marketing tactics.

Perception changes when we see the unthinkable happen.  Remember when Apple commercials told us we would one day have phones that would fit into our pockets?  Inconceivable!  A black man for president - never!  And even now we forget the impossible is happening every day:  

Today’s workers don’t think the workplace is smart or digitally connected enough and believe this inhibits productivity, collaboration, and efficiency.

Meanwhile Virtual & Augmented Reality is transforming tomorrow’s workplace.  With every new innovation we prove the unthinkable is possible and widespread perception is changed.  

Authenticity is the most potent force behind perception.  How do you measure authenticity?  It starts with an honest examination of goals.  Are you seeking enrichment or approval?  The difference between the two will foreshadow your sustainability: either you have something, or you are applying marketing techniques to nothing.  

After all, where do you want to meet people - in your reality or theirs?  Are you only trying to fulfill someone else’s expectations or are you serving your honest self?   The answer is less cut and dry than it sounds.  

Consider the framework of an artist’s reality.  Artists tend to populate the outskirts of the mainstream.  This often breeds a mentality of trying to please the people who have the power to pull them out of the fringes.  Rarely does their decision-making prioritize other artists.  This is likely because they are peers inside the stomping grounds for exploitation.

Even if catering to those who promise success is a survival technique, that assessment is based on the artist’s own doesn’t make it a static truth.  My argument is this: When you base your perceptions on someone else’s reality (i.e. seeking approval from the mainstream), you compromise your own enrichment.  You will never receive 100% approval 100% of the time anyway so how can that be sustainable?  You are the only one who can offer a perfect record of approval for yourself.  So why not stay true to yourself first?

Armed with an authentic perception, let’s put our something out of nothing through the Sustainability Cycle.

Exploration. We started exploring the decision-making process above but let’s expand it here (the cycle never ends!).  Everyone places demands of varying degrees on the people in their life, demands that are deeply ingrained in their psychology and often arise out of selfish desires (sometimes it’s a healthy selfish, sometimes it’s vindictive).  Whose demands do you prioritize and why?  Do you define your authentic self/talent by the approval of others or by your own personal satisfaction?  If you switched your perception from one to the other, would your nothing become a something or vice versa?

Inclusion.  Making your authenticity priority attracts others with similar interests.  People can sense if someone is trying to cheat them.  If your perception does not reflect a reality you believe, how will you convince others?  E.g. You tell people you’re a success but you don’t believe it.  If you are trying to manipulate how people see you instead of presenting your true-self, you are closed to the reality of success without compromise.  That’s because people won’t see the possibility if you don’t demonstrate it!  (See my blog about mirrors.)

Forget what people have told you or trends in the industry - if you are not open to the unthinkable, you won’t recognize the opportunity to make nothing into something.  When decision-making is driven by the desire for approval, it undercuts possibility.  

Relationships that evolve from authenticity and honesty will always prove more gratifying in the long run.  That doesn’t eliminate the need to wade through the bullshit of people who “promise” their intentions are in alignment with yours.  But putting your authentic self first is what leads to sustainability.

Evolution.  Evolution reminds us not to neglect unrecognizable moments as opportunities.  People change and staying authentic means recognizing that change and allowing unforeseen circumstances (a.k.a possibility) to uproot your plans and take on a completely different direction.  After working so hard in pursuit of a goal, the idea of the finish line moving or changing course can be heartbreaking.  But that is evolution and if we don’t pay attention we sabotage our own success.  

The pre-occupation of always having to please others is exhausting.  The Sustainability Cycle reminds us to stay open to possibility without compromise.  Change is scary, unknown, unthinkable, and essential to life.   Change is what made your nothing into something, and will continue to do so….repeating Exploration, Inclusion, and Evolution over and over again.

Emileena's upcoming book is ANOTHER WAY, The Tao of Artist Development.  To learn more about her work, please visit

Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator.  For more, please visit

If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program

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