In Monday’s Art Marketing Action newsletter, I wrote the following:
"Everything has been done a million times. Sometimes you use it and it's yours; another time you do it and it's still theirs."
The quote is from artist Elizabeth Murray, who recently passed away. To a great extent, I believe she is right. Everything in art has been done, redone, and overdone. The trick is learning from this and putting a spin on your style to make it your own. I find that too many artists who have little foundation in the history of art are unaware of others who paved the way for them. These artists are too quick to claim originality and uniqueness without the knowledge to back it up. (This is why I loathe the word “unique” to describe one’s art.) Without that knowledge those who are more familiar with it won’t take you seriously. That’s why I encourage you to research and explore what and who came before you. Read books, visit museums, and watch educational programs and documentaries. Don’t be afraid of being influenced by others. Be afraid of being ignorant of them.
Now let me clarify.
The times to avoid using “unique” and “original” are when you are attempting to describe your style or ideas and often even your materials. “I approach the human figure in a unique way.” Ugh! Not only is it undoubtedly false, it is a weak sentence. Instead of using the word “unique,” tell us what it is about your work that makes it unique. Then you never have to use that word. As Murray said in her quote, it’s been done. It’s been done a million times. So, those two words are often poor choices and can be easily debated by anyone with a master’s degree in art or art history.
The times when it’s okay to use “unique” or “original” are when you are describing a one-of-a-kind piece of work. My preference is the latter used as a noun. “Sally had originals on the walls and reproductions in a bin.” “Unique” just sounds to gift-shoppy to use with art.