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Originality is Boring

 

Originality in the creation of anything need not be mentioned.  Not because it is trivial, and not because the air of the original is so rarified as to be almost mythical in nature; but because of the ease of being original.  Originality is the natural and constant state of our existence; it is the essential nature of every created thing.  By virtue of birth each achieves individuality, and thus originality.  And just as each individual is original, each creation of every person is original by virtue of its birth from that person. One need not try to be original or create anything original, one already is original, and by virtue of such creates original work.

Originality is unavoidable. So, what is really at stake is the degree of exploration, interpretation and aggregation of external and internal sources that a person brings to bear upon their creations.  Perhaps what might be better understood by originality, is the creativity with which people produce objects/thoughts/etc. The original component of any created thing is constant and is in no way special.  It’s everywhere. One person’s originality effectively cancels another’s…it’s like dividing by zero. One might compare how a person or created object is original relative to another person or created object, but all that is being achieved is the comparison of originalities. In so doing neither is elevated or depreciated.

It is not possible to be more original than anyone else or any other idea if everybody and everything is always original. The uniqueness of one thing can only be compared to the uniqueness of another thing in the sense that they are both unique. “In what way does your uniqueness differ from mine?” Great…let’s get on with it. Creations, like people, just are original…but only because they come from that person.  Creations become more particular to a person; and this might make them a more accurate reflection of that person’s originality as they become ‘thicker’ in the sources they are integrating. But, to compare this reflection of originality against another’s originality is to miss the point: originality isn’t interesting; the creative manner in which an original individual combines influences to produce a thing or thought is.

The particularly damning argument against talk of originality is that it makes no sense. Let’s assume that individuality and originality in terms of self-identification are synonymous. If that’s the case (and I see no way around this), then when someone says that a person is unoriginal, or says that a person’s work is unoriginal, they are (in addition to potentially making a person feel shitty about themselves) saying that a person is un-individual…which makes no sense. How can an individual which in no way can absolutely identify with anything outside of itself be anything other than original? This especially makes no sense in a culture that prides itself on each person’s inherent right to their individuality. Beyond making no sense, the conversation simply isn’t interesting.

It has never been a persons individuality that is of interest to us; it’s a person particular set of circumstances under the umbrella of their individuality as it is different from our own by which we are fascinated. People, while being born individual and original, integrate influences that affect their output…creative or otherwise.  So an individual’s products are derivative of not only the person, but also the influences that have impinged upon that person from birth.   What’s more, creations undergo generations of development that mask what may have initially inspired their creation.  ‘Point Z’ of an idea may bear very little resemblance to ‘point A’ and even less to the sources that inspired ‘point A’. But, they are all derivative of something.  It is the navigation of these derivatives that make their products, and the people who made/thought them, of interest to us.

What makes objects/thoughts of creation interesting is the effort and insight brought to bear on them by their creator.  This is especially pertinent to art. It seems to me that what people are really doing when they invoke the term originality is using the word euphemistically to refer to the quality of the referent in the attribution value.  But, since invoking value and quality necessitates the use of words like good and bad, and since these terms have become politically and ethically burdensome in the discourse on art, we have originality in its stead.

Good or bad, right or wrong, left or right, it’s the obsessions, pursuits and struggles, influences, ideas, and plain ol’ diligence in the face of adversity, that makes already original people and their output interesting.  And whether you like it or not, in addition to people being original, some people are also way more interesting than others…and so are the fruits of their labours.  But, they are only original in the sense that they are products of an original individual.  All creations are derivative of individuals, and all individuals are original. All creations are therefore original. No hemlock necessary.

February 9, 2010. Vancouver.