Originality

One of the questions that has always plagued artists is that of whether originality exists or not.  It’s a value that most artists try to have in their work as it makes your work so much more desirable. A good variation is still just that; an alteration of what has gone before. This is sometimes unnecessary for a piece of art to be of merit, for example there was very little originality in the film Avatar but it was still enjoyable.

The story in Avatar however was criticised for being too similar to other films before it. I must admit myself that after five minutes, I knew how the rest of the story would pan out.  There is a theory that there exists only seven types of plot, so how much originality can be expected in a storyline whose rhythm you will almost certainly have encountered somewhere else?

One of the reasons that the question of originality is so interesting is that it is subtly linked with much bigger questions regarding fate and God. Can anything you do be original in a universe where our fate is entirely determined or is just necessary to readjust your definition of originality? Can created beings be original or is their unicity an expression of their creator and not them? Is there someone high above who can judge what is original and isn’t, because He can see the source of all ideas?

As a christian, I feel a lot of these questions are still not entirely answerable. The Bible has very little to say on what God thinks of art, but it says a lot about His people. We are described as fresh creations, each one of us unique.  We are creative beings made in the image of the creator God, but whether our ideas are from Him or our own minds is never answered. Even the question of whether fate or free will exists is not made clear and I have come to the conclusion that both must be true. Living in a tension of God’s perfect plan and our own free will, there is a possibility that we can have original ideas, but also that we can be given them.

I have however come to the conclusion that a much more personal definition of originality is needed. Consider the case when two completely new ideas are thought of at roughly the same time by two unconnected individuals. Both ideas have different sources and cannot be linked by anything except the end result, which is something never before seen. Which is original, or are both of them? My belief is that the definition needs to consider personal experience and cannot be separated from this. For each inventor in this example, the other’s idea is completely unoriginal and to an onlooker, the one you encounter first will be the original, regardless of which was conceived first. It is more closely linked to perception than inception.

So what can artists take from this? The aim of complete originality is far beyond their reach, as you cannot imagine whether or not it your audience will have conceived anything like it. Is it therefore something you shouldn’t try for at all? No, as it can still be achieved. Foreign cultures and unheard of ideas are exciting and encourage original amalgamations of previously unlinked ideas. It is however not something you will achieve for every one of your readers but merely a portion of your audience. It is not the only thing you should aim for, but it can be achieved. You can have an idea original to yourself that almost everyone else has had, but if you present it well, nobody will be fussed about the originality of it.

So what do you think about originality? Dare I say it, is this post original? What was the last original idea you heard and why do you think originality has become so appealing? Leave your thoughts below.

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