“There’s nothing new under the sun.”
or “It’s all been done before.”
or my personal favorite, “There’s no such thing as originality.”
These three sentences, word for word, I read today by three different people. In a single day, in a single social media post. And it was the most disheartening realization upon which to stumble, second to an ASPCA animal abuse commercial, toting a Sarah McLaughlin-sad animal montage.
I could live my whole life having never heard these phrases and die a happy woman. This philosophy (popular amid the tablet users and smart phone users and the Age of the Internet and digital sharing) damages something fundamental about the process of creativity. It stints the flow of creative thought. It aborts the idea of art before it ever takes root.
In a world with 7 billion people, is originality dead? Is innovation the unicorn of the creative community?
Of. Course. Not.
Yes, an idea is built upon the history which came before it, but it isn’t dependent on that history. It’s not a replication, a copy devoid of soul or meaning or invention. It’s simply an idea with a single root, or a cluster of roots, that somehow shoot up from the ground an entirely different formation. And from those roots, each branch springing out with an ever-reaching energy, is an underived originality, thankful for, but not shackled to, the designs of others.
So why do people hold to this depressing ideology that originality is dead, especially in artistic communities based entirely on the opposite? Is it an excuse to violate the copyrights of others? Is it an excuse to perpetuate laziness? Is it derived from the low place of fear and self-doubt? I don’t know. Perhaps it is due to none of these. Or all of them.
However, it’s time to stop perpetuating this myth, this unbelievable belief that art has been reduced to an endless sea of mimicry. When you say “nothing is original” what you’re saying is “I don’t know how to be original”. And, to be fair, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with mimicry. There’s nothing wrong with copies or distinct derivatives. Copies are simply a gateway to growth, and art has room for this because art is ever-evolving. It reincarnates itself every time a brush is put to canvas, a pen to paper, or wire to stone.
But it’s time to stop confusing the limitations we put on ourselves with what we perceive to be the limitations of creativity as a whole. It’s time to stop confusing the origins of technique, with the birth of design. It’s time to say “I can” instead of “someone else already did.” Don’t you want to be the sun in your own creative universe? Don’t you want to silence the voice that says otherwise?