Does Originality Exist?

If you ask many creatives why they choose to express themselves, they will tell you that they have no choice. They must, or they will perish. But the real question is, where do they get their inspiration from?

One of the major myths in any design-related industry is associated with originality. Imagine this: you just came out of the theater after watching the latest Christopher Nolan flick. It was amazing as always. What about this - you are at the MOCA absorbing Jackson Pollock’s abstract masterpieces and instantaneously your gears start grinding, but behind you another film buff or painter, graphic designer, sound mixer, or writer is also having epiphanies of creativity. If we all consume similar media, can we make anything original?

If we look back at history there are clear colossal leaps that were made by individuals or civilizations. Look back at the pyramids of Giza, or the classical Greek designs such as the Parthenon, both of which still draw visitors for its historical and architectural beauty. We can look at how the renaissance culture of Western Europe resulted in the use of the vanishing point which fundamentally changed western aesthetics forever. We can sift through history and find many examples of extraordinary work but one must look at the Europeans to pose the originality discussion.

The Renaissance was a period of rebirth in western Europe that took place between the 14th and 17th centuries. It was a time of cultural, economic, religious and artistic revival. It was this revival that led to a reawakening. One of the reasons the Renaissance occurred was the rediscovery of Greek and Roman culture and influence.

The Greeks, Romans and renaissance Europeans were centuries apart, yet one can say that the renaissance artist remixed the Greeks and Romans. Some notable examples include the use of the contrapposto stance which was a key technique used in renaissance sculptures. Look at Michelangelo’s statue of David, Donatello’s Saint Mark, The Neptune Fountain by Bartolomeo Ammanati, Benvenuto Cellini's statue of Perseus - they all employ this technique. But there is a statue that belongs to the late Greek archaic period by the name of Kritios Boy. It employs a rough version of the contrapposto stance, but it is not as fluid; it is not copied by the renaissance artists verbatim.

The point of inspiration is to pay tribute or homage to amazing creations. Creators just want audiences to feel a glimpse of what they felt when they first saw that original piece and were making the new piece. But enough history. Let us look at what some contemporary content creators have to say about originality.

Interviewee: Chris Do

Profession: CEO and Chief Strategist of Blind and the founder of the Future

1. Do you consider yourself a creative person?


2. Do you think originality exist in design, art, music, filmmaking (your field of choice)? Explain.

Yes, but rarely do we find something truly new. New will usually come from advances in technology. Most work we see is a combination of old work and methods presented in a new way. If your knowledge of art, history, literature, and film are deep enough you can probably trace most ideas back to its original form.

3. How should creators balance between inspiration and copying?

You must copy to learn. High probability that what you think is new isn’t. A little research will show you. Start here. Copy to learn. Over time you will develop your own style.

Interviewee: Carlos Corral

Profession: Artistic Director at El Paso Film Festival and owner of MindWarp Films

1. Do you consider yourself a creative person?

Yes, although not so much in an artistic sense. I see myself as a creative problem solver that likes to work in the arts.

2. Do you think originality exists in design, art, music, filmmaking (your field of choice)? Explain.

Originality exists in filmmaking, but at times, it does not feel that way. Sometimes we read and watch the same story repeatedly and don't even realize it half the time. Originality in the film industry can sometimes mean taking an old story and giving it a fresh interpretation. It can also be the retelling of an archetype such as the "Overcoming the Monster", "Rags to Riches", or "The Quest" storyline. I believe it is these archetype stories that give birth to our original storytelling, which can be told through design, art, music, and film.

3. How should creators balance between inspiration and copying?

It all depends on who the target audience is for the art. A good example in film is writer/director Quentin Tarantino. His films are highly original and yet they also pay homage to the filmmakers that came before him. There is a major difference between influence and copying and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish it based on the work by certain artists. This is because artistic inspiration is passed down to every new generation, and every new generation of designers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers will always interpret their stories and art with the influences that were a part of their development.

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