Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"nothing is original"

i've always been bothered by the notion that the goal of an artist (or of any person, really) is to be "original". as if that's possible, what with nothing being new under the sun and all. over the years, it has accumulated meanings more reflective of western individualism, until it now signifies the creation of something unique and hitherto undreamt of. in many ways, it is the golden calf of the [immature] artist. such hubris. such pride. too much pressure. please - let us determine in our hearts to die to this particular notion of "originality".

instead let's embrace this idea of originality (he said as he raced to his OED): authenticity, or genuineness. "original" is from the late 14c. from the latin originalis, from originem, meaning "beginning, source, birth" (from orori "to rise"). the use of the word in the 1430s denoted something being derived from something - it grew out of, or from, an original source. think of it involving an ancestry, or parentage. there is the idea that an original work reflects the individual's own personality, style, etc., but that it is also part of a larger tradition i.e.  it is a derivation of an already existing thing (whether style, subject, trope, etc.). the sense of novelty, of something being new and never before seen or thought of is a more modern idea. and it can be crippling.

so let's embrace originality in a way that more accurately reflects its original sense. let's embrace our own originality - let us pursue authenticity, and genuineness. let us be convinced of what we're making and why. let us leave the vicissitudes of economics and fashion to their own devices, and trust that what we make will speak to those it must. let us hold fast to the stories we must tell, and the songs we must sing. let us give up novelty. originality means that we are unafraid of influence, that we use the past and the present as foundations upon which we can build. it means we bring ourselves to the old, old stories. 


cvnvmte said...

Well said! I completely agree - I mean, look at all the young, impressionable people nowadays, seeking to be original, unique, fresh. The harder they try to become something new, the closer they get to being something that has already been done.
Its those who embrace the past and incorporate it into themselves, taking pieces and ideas of old to create the present - that is when something special is created.
King Solomon did say there's 'nothing new under the sun' but he said nothing about the manner in which it is presented! New eyes are born everyday and there in that, new light is shone upon that which is old, creating a new reflection for all to marvel.

Josh said...

To be original..the idea is that you want to set yourself apart from everyone else isn't it?

You look at Damien Hirst's bisected animals and realise that that people were chopping animals in half for the aesthetic effect back in the old testament...but there must be some things that are original in the popular sense..the first photograph taken of earth by an astronaut - would that have been 'original' as an artwork?

I think I can definitely agree that trying to make something never before seen, or 'original' is an odd goal for an artist...

techne said...

@ josh

certainly, there are always "first things". the first photo from space would be an original i.e. the first. but those images were also not intended to be art. of course, i am also addressing the idea of originality - literally the state of being original - and how that has been twisted to mean something it didn't originally, and how it is (or can become) a bit of a golden calf/ distraction. i know that i used to feel the pressure to "come up with something new". oddly enough, as cvnvmte wrote, the more i stay true to my own content and expression, the more "original" it is.

i think the idea is inherently problematic as it is so tied up with the whole concept of modernism/ the avant-garde/ "progress"...