By Pjotr Barakov
So this is my reflection on a thought I heard twice within last two weeks. First it was John Hegarty who stated that nothing is original during his talk at CreativeMornings in Paris back in 2012. The same statement was made by Mark Palmer during his masterclass at SCA 2.0. I found this idea to be quite disturbing because a strive for originality defines creativity in a way. So it took me some time to figure out what John and Mark meant.
The universally accepted definition of originality is the following: it is the quality of newness that exists in something not done before or not derived from something else. It is synonymous with other terms such as novelty, innovation and ingenuity.
First of all, it is important to understand what the rejection of originality is based on. Since birth we are all influenced in one way or another to various degrees in our thoughts and actions by our external environment and causes that precede every individuals actions which implies that an idea cannot be achieved or fully realized by human beings. It means that everything is simply a matter of cause and effect. So every thought of human being is derived from something that paved the way for it. It’s hard to disagree with this point of view as all acts of creativity embody some kind of external influence whether its conscious or unconscious.
But let’s look at van Gogh’s work for example. The style and palette utilized by him in a majority of his most famous and later works does embody the action of departing from traditionally established forms of painting therefore making his work unique and original. It is clear to anyone that views a painting created by van Gogh that his works look like nothing that has preceding it by any other artist. This isn’t to say that he wasn’t influenced by external forces and that his style and palette were not derived from something previous. But what it does mean is that van Gogh and his paintings are a perfect physical representation of what we as human beings conceive as the quality of being original. So if van Gogh is our watermark for originality in painting it would seem that for a work of art or anything for that matter to be original it must possess something in its style and creation that simply deviates from the traditionally accepted and previously established forms. This leads us to a conclusion that originality is a very important facet in the determination of the overall worth of art. Interestingly enough, Van Gogh’s paintings seem to lose their quality of originality when his initial painting is compared to his other works, but all of his paintings are original when compared to every other work of art produced by any other artist. So originality is a state that can occur only once but yet can be applied to the same person or object repeatedly unless it is compared with other versions of itself, and in this case whatever one came first is the true original.
To sum up, the concept of originality is so relative that we could question it’s right to exist. But as the worth of creative output is judged upon ‘originality’ it’s hard to ignore this notion. John Hegarty offers to use the word ‘fresh’ as an alternative to ‘original’ to avoid confusion. And it makes sense to me. By the way, this SCAB is not original to a large extent. A huge part of it was copied from an article called ‘The Art of Originality’ by Timothy Ryan. So if you’d like to explore this topic in depth, here’s the link: https://www.academia.edu/3649884/The_Art_of_Originality