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.


  1. I think in the end, imitation is a conscious process, originality is not.
    You are correct sir.
    OMB comes from an honest place and I think superficial bearings notwithstanding(even so!) it is as obvious as blue sky.
    "Don't playa hate, participate."

  2. Here, Here! No artist has ever been an island unto him/herself. We all take bits and pieces of those we love and admire. I think too many people confuse originality with evolution of idea and approach.

    The Impressionists turned from classical rendering to capture the fleeting moment. This new idea/concern required a new approach.


  3. P.s.
    Your gouache paintings are awesome!

  4. So many artists these days "borrow" from the classic UPA style and artists like Mary Blair. Are they original? I think the journey that creates your art is what influences any "style" you may eventually stumble upon through the process. Anyway, I think honesty in your work is the most important thing, as you said. Keep up the nice work.

  5. one word, IG NANT.

  6. congratulations on the new job, you deserve it after all the effort you put into the book

  7. Thanks all, for the healthy discussion. I'm sorry Anon isn't here to comment. I seriously really didn't mean to have a go, I guess I just felt strongly about the claim. My thoughts on the subject aren't the clearest, but I feel like overall we've all covered some really great points and good examples.

    I dunno, it's interesting.

    One thing I will applaud Anon on was having the strength to criticize--which is something rare in the blogosphere. Good on you for that!

  8. Hi Nick.
    Good on you for standing on your own convictions and furthering the discussion.
    It's true that criticism is not common on artists blogs, so it's good when someone says their piece if they are so moved. Tho, I think it's better to put your name on the comment is you want to say something.
    You work very hard at what you do and there is plenty of originality in it because it's all filtered through the Nick Sung filter! Keep on doing what you do!

    Sweet painting of a mum.