I have been thinking about the subject of original work, and accessing one’s own ideas. In A high calling, I spoke of Jenny Bowker’s delight when she helps an artist who wants to do original work, but is somehow unable to access her own ideas.
I went on a little web rampage to see how other artists speak about “originality.”
Kate Franzman, who is a New Media Project Administrator at Indianapolis Museum of Art, writes that originality is overrated and she is not afraid to admit that she rarely has an original idea. What she does is tweak.
Giff Constable starts his essay Art & Originality with the acknowledgment that “the debate of whether original thoughts still exist has gone on for centuries.” But he puts himself firmly into the camp that considers originality to be attainable:
I believe very strongly that originality still exists in art and painting, although it is getting tougher. Originality exists in something as simple as your signature. Too often we close off our creativity by over-thinking and seeking approval. Yes, we are social creatures, we need approval, we need community. But to those of us who are hard-wired to seek our own path, you have to remember to put aside the comments of fashion and the criticism of the establishment. Believe in yourself, pursue your individuality, and the journey will be worth the trouble.
Martin Roemer says he is unique, like everyone else:
The difference between artists and the rest of humanity is not that they have unique feelings and thoughts but that they can bring them out and make them tangible. When people are particularly moved by a piece of art it is because it gives form to the same thing that is inside of them. When you read an engaging novel that ‘speaks’ to you for example, you are really reading about yourself. When you are lost in a movie, it is yourself that you see. One of the best things about art is that it allows us to see something of ourselves that we didn’t have the means to see otherwise.
Ryan Mulligan believes in idea swaps, concurring with a teacher of his who advised, “Don’t worry about someone stealing your ideas. You will have more.”
“Ouch,” is my response to John Kenneth Galbraith, who quipped:
Originality is something that is easily exaggerated, especially by authors [or artists?] contemplating their own work.
He adds insult to injury with:
If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.
Lynne Hull, an environmental artist, quoted another artist to preface her own thoughts on the subject:
A wise potter I once knew said: “Originality depends on the obscurity of your sources” but I’ve come to believe that originality depends on knowing your sources well and taking the ideas of those sources on to a new level. This is why we visual artists need to know art history–so we can build and expand on the ideas which came before and not just repeat them endlessly.
College art teacher Marvin Bartel assumes originality as a possibility when he poses this query:
Grades without rationale give no useful information that helps a person be creative. When we give reasons, do our criteria include credit for the originality as much as for following prescribed requirements?
Read the essay Ten Classroom Creativity Killers for more “confessions” from Bartel, all designed to assist your ability to boost student creativity.
I could easily spend the next decade weighing the pros and cons of where, and even whether, originality exists. However, like most rhetorical questions, the answers arise from the arena of belief. If I deem a work of art to be original, in my mind it is. If I believe I am creating an original work of art, for all intents and purposes, I am. A person with greater education or more extensive exposure to fine art, might disagree. S/he may be supported by experts who have set forth criteria by which to judge the originality or quality of art. But for the person wiping tears as they behold a painting that has moved them deeply, the worth/worthiness flows from another place. For art as an investment, art criticism is crucial. For art of the heart, one’s own, individual aesthetic is paramount.
Rollo May brings our discussion to an entirely different level, one of moral obligation:
If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution (The Courage to Create, p. 12).
You can read extensive quotes from one of May’s books, The Courage to Create, on Google books.
That is where I am going to leave this discussion, at the point of exhorting you to summon your courage to create, or keep creating, what only you can. Whether or not your creations are original may be a subject for debate, but if you are striving to “listen to your own being,” you are making a substantial contribution towards furthering creativity. Your work becomes ours~it delights us, moves us, teaches and challenges us.
And I, for one, salute your purple heart.