“It’s fine to imitate someone you respect … Such behaviour is merely a process to help one mature … You gain nothing when you attach your self-value to something external that’s admirable and praiseworthy to you … Those who cannot acknowledge themselves will invariably fail.” – Uchiha Itachi (Naruto Shippuden)
We all start out imitating others, from a very early age we learn about the world and how to interact with it from our parents/guardians. We learn to walk, speak, read etc. Then as we get older we learn from our peers, others our age. We learn the social norms to try and fit in and make friends. We also acquire mentors, whether they’re teachers, relatives etc. people we greatly admire.
This is especially prevalent for artists, regardless of the art form. We find inspiration from those that have come before us, we discover what styles we like and we begin to try and mimic them. Whether you attempt to draw like Banksy, rap like Immortal Technique, write poetry like Sarah Kay, play the piano like Art Blakey or dance like Chachi Gonzales. And like Itachi said: “such behaviour is merely a process to help one mature.”
In the beginning we are learning our craft, the basic skills we need to succeed and evolve as an artist, as a human being. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact some would argue it’s vital. A problem only occurs when we cling to these impersonations of our heroes once we have finished making use of imitating them. Once we have acquired the basic skills necessary to form the foundations of our practice it’s time to move on to finding out own artistic voice.
The most important part of an artist journey is to learn to stand on their own two feet and begin to acknowledge themselves, or they “will invariably fail.” We need to drop the american accent and start rapping with our own, we need to find our own style of graffiti, our own way to finger the keys and our unique way to move our bodies to music. Otherwise we will grow stale and never amount to anything more than an impersonator. Which is fine for a few but the worst nightmare of many.
The way I feel it best to approach art, or any aspect of life, is to follow Bruce Lee’s philosophy for creating Jeet Kune Do: “Take what works, disregard what doesn’t and then add your own flavour.” This is how I approach every aspect of my life, from Poetry to Spirituality. Yes I may deliver my pieces a bit like Watsky, and I may structure my sentences a little like Amir Sulaiman but my writing style is ultimately my own, as is the content of my words.
I’ve spoken about this from an artistic point of view because that’s what I know, but you can apply this to anything you wish, so long as you keep an open mind about it. Some people wind up mimicking their entire lives upon someone else, like the person Itachi is addressing in the above quote. And this is a sad reality for them, especially if they are never made aware of it. It’s not only important to make sure you evolve into your authentic, true self. But almost equally important you make sure your friends do the same.
You can’t force them to acknowledge themselves, but you can make them aware they aren’t doing so already. Even if only by showing them how to do it by living it yourself. Those with their eyes closed can still see the light through their stubborn lids, and feel it’s warmth against their rigid faces. Eventually curiosity may get the best of them.