Today, I want to discuss why originality is overrated. Specifically, we’ll be addressing the myth of originality and the importance of learning to imitate those around you as an artist. The most popular book in human history puts it succinctly: there is nothing new under the sun. Almost everything that exists has been present in some form or another. Every new creation doesn’t emerge from nothing; it’s a combination of existing components.
You might wonder, “Seth, what about new inventions? Cell phones didn’t exist before.” True, but all the components to make a cell phone did. The ideas that led to the inventions that eventually resulted in the cell phone all existed before its creation. We understood the concepts that went into it before we held the first cell phone in our hands. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to create it. This principle applies to everything, especially stories. Every story we tell is merely a reinterpretation of age-old principles and concepts that have been with humanity since time immemorial.
So, if there’s nothing new under the sun, what’s the point of being a creator? How can I create something interesting, unique, and special if there’s nothing new? This brings us to the myth: the value of originality. I say it’s a myth, but I must tread carefully here. Originality does have value, just not as much as we’ve been led to believe. Cultural reasons, particularly in the West, have led us to prioritize originality, especially in art, above all else. But do you know where originality for its own sake leads us? To subpar art.
I’m sure some of you reading this disagree with me, believing that originality in art is crucial. I think you’re mistaken, and here’s why. To be truly original is to create something that no one else has ever created before, which reduces the ability of anyone who interacts with it to understand it. You can create incredibly original art, but it will be incomprehensible. Since art is fundamentally a means of communication—expressing feelings, thoughts, beliefs, or ideas—the more original you become, the further you stray from the point. You can create incredibly original art, but no one will understand it, and your efforts will be in vain.
I can already sense the backlash this video might provoke, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Do you know what’s better than completely original art? Art that resonates with people. Art that impacts those around you. Art that communicates clearly, efficiently, and expressively. Art that, through painting, music, or writing, can express emotions. But to do that, you must start with something people already understand.
Imagine if you invented a completely original language. How successful do you think you’d be in communicating with people on the street? Not at all. If it’s a completely original language, no one else would speak it. That’s my point. Art is fundamentally a means of communication. Seeking originality for its own sake undermines your ability to participate in that communication.
Having potentially isolated myself with these views, let me discuss where originality is important. If you want to create something that stands the test of time, you need originality. If you want to communicate feelings that are true to yourself, you need originality. If you want to build a shared experience between you and your community, you need originality. But you need it in the right dose. You need a touch of originality. You need to take common things that we all understand and present them in a new and different way. Not in a way that’s unrecognizable, but in a way that sparks an immediate reaction and provides an opportunity to present new ideas. That’s where originality is valuable. Not for its own sake. Not to be avant-garde or cutting-edge. Originality needs to exist in a context that everyone already understands.
I believe the lie that we, as artists, need to be original undermines the essence of what art is truly about. Instead of striving to be original in everything we do, we should embrace commonality. We should embrace the things that allow us to connect with others and then offer our unique perspective. Trust me, that’s all the originality you need.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/pPrFnrsOuDE
Thanks for reading and watching.
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