Deep Thought Thursday: Originality

Is there such a thing as originality?

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23 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Originality”

  1. Yes! As an artist originality is about knowing the past, building on the past, deveoping skills, and then reaching deep within to see the world with fresh new eyes. It’s something most of us strive for but only a few actually attain.

  2. Absolutely! Originality lies with the interpretation by the artist in his chosen medium, and within his individual skill sets. Everyone has their own approach. A couple of years ago I took a palette-knife class with Fred Oldfield, in which we all followed him in painting a mountain. He did not over-guide his students, but let them take it where they wanted – even though everyone was following what he was doing. The end results were amazing. A walk-through of everyone’s easels did not reveal mirrors of the same mountain, but instead was more like a journey through the entire Cascade mountain range. That was a great example of individual originality within the same colour palette and theme.

  3. The Beatles learned their craft by copying other musical artists… ie Chuck Berry. Then they branched out to create their own compositions and sound. It’s interesting that when they first presented their recordings to major record producers, they were turned down multiple times with lines like: “That’s not what kids listen to today” and “Guitar is on its way out” Well, the Beatles had faith in “their original sound” and persisted. This is all to say that being original can sometime take a while to get acceptance. However, I think it is the way to go. Lori

  4. I agree with JoAnn. Innovation and originality is often the fusion of ideas of the past with the unique perspective of the individual artist. And individual artist are rarely insulated from the general cultural they live in. This is why great, original art often speaks so clearly of the era that it was created in.

  5. The dictionary defines original as preceeding all others in time 2. new and unusual 3. inventive. These definitions don’t push out the idea of outside influences, so yes there is such a thing as originality. What’s tricky about originality as a goal, is that artists can try so hard to create a new form of art that they sacrifice authenticity. Wierd for the sake of being wierd, meh. That’s not so original 😉

  6. I agree with JoAnn – yes it exists but it’s a hard won thing. I think the best artists don’t assume they’ve reached originality, they constantly strive for it. It’s a changing evolving thing. To Michael’s point about culture we live in I’d add to that the culture we’re from. It never ceases to amaze me the connection I seem to have with American, and particularly midwestern, points of view even though I’ve lived in the UK for 15 years now. Yet my work is also very British.

  7. from Shayla’s post … ‘The dictionary defines original as preceeding all others in time …’ funny thing – I have this long distance vision , where I seem to paint subjects just before they become topical … like this wild storm painting I did as a demonstration in a gallery , which stayed in the window over Xmas , & happened to be there before the tsunami happened … the gallery owner freaked out a bit & sent in some expert to see if I had some weird gift … (the guy said something like ‘ the force is very strong in this one ‘ …& I shied away , ’cause paranormal stuff scares me …) anyway, long story short , I get a lot of ‘ original ‘ in my comments , but mostly because I am just a tiny step ahead all the time – my mum has it too – picks up the phone before it rings …

  8. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Great insights. I think originality gets lost when one is striving for originality. Trying too hard. I think you have to absorb the lessons that came before you before you can move onto more “original” work. At least those are the lessons art history teaches us.

  9. Willa Cather wrote that there are only three (or was it four) themes, and they continued appearing throughout civilisation. Fortunately, each artist comes to those themes from a unique perspective, and produces art that is original. At least I hope they do… that’s what I aim for.

  10. I guess I’ll cheer for the underdog here: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? it might be new to me but how can one ascertain it is original?

  11. When we are children and are learning to write, our letter forms are fairly standardized. It doesn’t take long for individuals to develop their own writing styles. It’s something that happens with practice. Look at various people’s signatures. It’s easy to identify a person by their signature even without reading the name.I think the same thing happens with creating art. Your own personality comes shining through as you continue to do your work. Give an art assignment to 50 students. Even with strict guidelines, you will still get 50 distinctly different results. It seems to me that struggling to be original is counter-productive. It just happens as the result of consistent production.

  12. by definition this question is hypothetical and unanswerable. i have yet to see any art i’ve ever thought was anything other than derivative at best. many artists confuse creativity with originality and even creativity gets overused and misunderstood. it is true we each bring our individual insights to bear on our work but a quick cruise through the world of the internet should show most people they’re not really all that creative….most thoughts have been thought before, most conclusions reached, most writing, art, dance, etc. derives from collective experience, even when it seems new to us…. also, the idea that one can work at creativity or originality should be somewhat humorous, if we are honest about their definititions. as a teacher of creative problem solving it is a well known thought that creativity arrives best in spontaneous, open and willing situations where people are being more playful than work oriented…. personally, i think artists of all kinds should concentrate more on what it is they are trying to articulate and the skills with which to convey that than whether or not they are original.

  13. 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. A wonderful book, CREATIVITY, by Mihealy Czikszentmihalyi, looks across disciplines at BIG Creativity which includes a lot of originality, and says to achieve that the practitioner must know the field well enough to push the boundaries and soft spots, push the existing assumptions forward into new territory, and have colleagues who also know the field well enough to recognize the originality of the thinking or work and encourage it and spread it. So, we might consider that we do not help each other when we just give compliments to be agreeable rather than challenging ourselves and each other.

  14. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Mary: Good to see you back here! I love this: “this question is hypothetical and unanswerable.” Yep, that’s most of my questions on Deep Thought Thursday. It doesn’t mean they don’t still come up from time to time–in a philosophical arena. I think we’re on the same wavelength. I cringe at artists who think their work is wholly original–without paying homage to all of the artists who came before them. Maybe a better question is: Was the first artist original? Lynne: I think the nature of the artist (the temperament of most) is to get along peacefully with others. But probably–which might be what you’re suggesting–the artists that stand out are the ones who challenge us, rock the boat, and therefore help our world expand.

  15. I believe that there is still originality in art. Sometimes what is considered art can be problematic. I am a photographer, long considered a “non-art”, but now is accepted. There are two books I have in my library which touch on this subject: “Double Take” and “Counterparts: Form and Emotion in Photography”. They both look at (famous) photographers who have, knowingly or unknowingly, made photographs of the same or a similar subjects. Very interesting reading. I, myself, have made photographs that were “inspired” by well-known photographs, but are completely original. Some have the same subject, or composition, but all are unique in that they are may be decades apart (“newer” subjects), or made in different areas of the country. So, originality is alive and well in my book.

  16. Many people say that there is nothing new under the sun. I don’t totally agree with this because I do believe there is still room for absolute originality from some very special people/artists. Nevertheless, there are many more instances of artists repeating a subject or technique used by others. Another tired cliche says that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. True, but no artist should imitate even the masters just for the sake of imitation, unless as a pure educational exercise, for there art is lost and a sense of self is missing. Yes, we learn by imitation, but when we create we take something from within and apply it to that same subject, and it becomes something of our own. That is something every artist should strive for.

  17. I beg to differ from Mr. Jarmosch. I believe originality is everywhere. It is there when someone decides to praise a common sparrow. It is certainly there when someone chooses pink and yellow as a theme within a painting and sticks with it for a lengthy series. Perhaps people do not recognize it because the aesthetic born in Pop art, and what has followed that idea, has deadened the imagination. My sense is that we are entering dangerous water when we teach ourselves to believe that there is nothing left to discover that might be original. The human imagination is one of the most powerful phenomenon of our existence. When we slow down enough to hear it speak, or watch what it is looking at, it is astounding. Similar to belief, which like gravity functions no matter the contents, the imagination is the breath of our particular experience of existing in this world. That experience, and the imagination that propels it forward, are deeply original.

    Best wishes,
    Karen Fitzgerald

  18. I read Jim Jarmusch thoughts and his premise ‘that there is no originality in art.’ Where is he looking? And what specifically is he looking for?

    I beleive as artist we are inspired by everythnig. And as artist, who are each uniqely created,we each bring our own original thoughts to our art. It could be in a brush stroke, in the colors that excite us or may be the perspective something is presented, or its’ execution. If you think about a mere “sunset” that is not an original thought,its always before us in nature, but an artist using his or her own unique and special delivery to execute or capture that sunset, brings a sense of awe to the person viewing that particular presentation of the “sunset”.

    I think we are all inspired by each others artistic expressions. That includes everyone from the masters to the artist next door. Art is no different from everything else in life. Most neat,new ideas or things (i.e.,art)is always built on something else. Something that came before it.

    An artist may be inspired by an idea and expand on that idea,and, at that point of expansion its an “original” and quite unique to that artist!
    There are many new ‘original ‘ creation.

    But,did Jim stop to consider that there is only ONE original artist and all of us attempt to mimic the beauty and perfection of his creations.

  19. According to Random House College Dictionary:

    originality – the quality or state of being original.

    original – belonging or pertaining to the origin.

    origin – the source from which anything arises

    My first response was to agree. “There is no such thing as an original thought,” popped into my head, placing a stranglehold on further deliberation. End of discussion. Case closed.

    But this morning, I read something that made my heart soar. In Jim’s words, it resonated with me. And now I am daring to believe originality is possible. Following are some excerpts from, The Discerning Heart, pg. 119, by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au:

    Edith Genet, a religious educator, [says, we need to,] respect the creative impulse God has put in us. Images of immanence [from the Latin manere, “to remain within”] allow us to to visualize God, not as rival, but as a benevolent presence working in us and with us.

    Jesuit, Brian O’Leary writes, He is our Creator who continues to sustain us in being and breathe life into us as we think, reflect,… [create].

    As God’s immanence, the Source, flows in us, might our artwork be as original as each of us are uniquely original? No two thumprints alike, right?

    Or, put another way,

    A mother walks through the room where her child is drawing…”Honey, what are you drawing?”

    “A picture of God.”

    “Well, no one knows what God looks like.”

    “They will in a minute.”

    Enjoy The Journey,


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