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.