Art and Art Criticism: The Specter of Originality by Brian Sherwin
This article is by Brian Sherwin , Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Thinking to myself today I pondered on the issue of originality. It is not rare for me to find individuals making bold charges online about how their art or opinion is original-- and just as many more who are quick to suggest the opposite in response to said bold claims. At the heart of the issue I’m left asking, “Does it matter?”. I’ve decided that originality, if anything, is a specter casting itself over society as a whole-- just as it has always done. What is important is the manner in which artists and art critics convey their personal adaptations of past ideas and influences.
The hard-line approach that so many people tend to have concerning how they define originality alarms me-- especially when one considers the bombardment of influences that we all endure on a daily basis. Everyone is born into influence-- we soak in the world around us like a sponge. Thus, to suggest otherwise is to suggest that one is something beyond human-- and I feel that plot is best left for fantasy novels instead of describing one's artwork.
To deny the influences that surround us is to embrace and display ignorance of the human condition. Everyone takes in the influence surrounding them. Think of it this way, if a young child is placed in nature to fiend for herself she may, if she survives, take on the influences of the wild. In other words, she will interpret the traits and meaning behind the behavior of wildlife and convey them in her own manner strictly for survival. In that sense, do we not do the same thing on a daily basis living within the context of society? Do our children not do that when nurtured by a television set? Think about that.
We are constantly hit with a bombardment of ideas and interpret-- and therefore utilize-- those ideas based upon our individual inclination. Thus, that individuality-- the unique way that we solve problems with the information registered within our brain, so to speak-- is as close to originality as we will ever get. If you go by a hard-line definition of originality it is clear that nothing we create is truly original.
With that in mind, the outcome of any form of production-- meaning the work we do, be it a painting or essay focused on art criticism of a painting, does not amount to pure originality. Some where-- some how-- there was a conscious or sub-conscious path of ideas that sparked the thought resulting in said painting or art criticism. In that sense, it is naïve to claim otherwise aside from legal purposes. We humans are natural borrowers as dictated by our intellect and how we put our thoughts to work. Thus, the bold claims of what is, or can be, considered original really boils down to a mute point.
With the quest for originality comes great irony. For example, all attempts to avoid what has been done before-- the concept of avoiding itself-- is not original because others have long taken on that task. Every artist is linked in some way to artists from the past-- even the idea of picking up a brush to paint is learned based on influences. Furthermore, any art critic-- whether ranting about art on the street or writing for a mainstream art publication-- is not exactly being original in his or her presentation. After all, every art critic owes a tip of the hat to La Font de Saint-Yenne and Denis Diderot-- and certainly there were other forms of art criticism long before their writing.
In closing, there is nothing original in saying that nothing can be original-- even that form of criticism has been done long ago. On that same note, there is nothing original about boldly claiming that ones artwork is truly original compared to documented art history as we know it-- because that has been done before as well. Originality is a specter-- one could question, philosophically speaking, if originality exists. What matters is our individual approach and the manner in which we release our experiences and influences upon a canvas or in words. That is the triumph of art and art criticism-- anything else is a moot point spurred by ego.
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