July 23, 2006

1: On Originality

This sort of looks like my mom, except she's not so pudge.

I recently received an Anonymous comment which read:

"Nice work and great effort! (But it`s not original and that`s the most important part, for a true artist, no offence). Never the less, good luck and I hope you get all you want!"

Well, I'd like to talk about the importance of originality, because I disagree with this understanding of it. What is its purpose? To excite or surprise us? To indicate growth and progression? Originality, it can be said, performs all of these functions; but, I would ask, under what conditions? What is "Originality" and how do we separate it from shallow novelty?

The difference, I think, is sincerity. If a person's intentions are sincere, then it will be evident in their work. The confluence of time, place, ability, influence, worldview, resources and personal character will engender a unique personal vision; in a richer, more meaningful way, this constitutes originality.

My film was modeled after classic Disney shorts and 1950s children's picture books because they are most appropriate to the subject matter. Does my failure (or success) have anything to do with whether or not I'm a "true artist"?

I argue for sincerity not as a measure of a "true artist", but as an important component of anyone's work ethic and system of values. Design addresses the need, as Charles Eames said, and that, in the end, is all any of us is trying to do. In Marya Mannes essay, "How Do You Know It's Good?", she labels "Purpose and Craftsmanship--end and means--" as the "keys to your judgement of the arts." and by doing so, suggests that they are are in fact the keys to art itself: quality is measured by purpose and craft. You might argue the need for "newness" as an important element in work, but how? I have seen too much originality for its own sake to care at all for it. Look at the trend of Art Brut drawing and illustration that has emerged in the last 5 years; does "originality" alone make it good? On the other hand, make it about something, show me what you care about, and I'm there. The point is that originality does not exist on its own, and is instead engendered, if you're lucky, by right effort.

I believe that a "true artist" is someone who responds with honesty to the world around them. As Robert Henri writes: "Art when really understood, is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing... It is a question of saying the thing that a person has to say. A man should not care whether the thing he wishes to express is a picture or not, he should only care that it is a statement of what is worthy to put into permanent expression... Art is the inevitable consequence of growth and is the manifestation of the principles of its origin. The work of art is a result; it is the output of a progress in development and stands as a record and marks the degree of development. It is not an end in itself, but the work indicates the course taken and the progress made."

Anyway, I do believe in originality; but as a function of other intentions.