One of the things that a lot of artists wrestle with is originality (and remember, when I say ‘artist’ I mean any creative person, whether it be writer, painter, dancer, musician, etc). Another issue that often arises is staying up with trends in your particular field. These two things seem to be counterintuitive: you have to be original but yet be within the parameters of the latest trend. That seems a bit impossible and frustrating. Yet there is a great deal of pressure in the world of arts to do just that.
This is one of those struggles in which unhelpful thinking will really do us a bad turn. As we are trying to come up with ideas, or even while we are working on projects, if we are frequently questioning the validity and originality and thereby dismissing anything we come up with, then we won’t get very far indeed.
The ever-challenging search for originality can put us off creating anything at all. But the truth is, seldom does an ‘original’ idea pop up uninvited. Usually we are in the process of doing something and the notion will strike of ‘hey, what if I do this?’ and something new and different comes out. I think too that the struggle for originality--deliberately setting out to create something ‘original’--is self-defeating. Trying to force something too hard often has the opposite effect—we create nothing.
I think that anything we make is original (unless you are painstakingly making an exact replica of someone else’s work). Each of us has our own unique voice, attitude, talents and capabilities. Yes, they may resemble others, but the combination of skills and abilities that each of us brings to the artistic table is original and one of a kind. And that is a great thing. In knowing what we like, what resonates within ourselves translates into a type of authenticity that others will recognize and relate to.
The other thing is about following the latest trends. I was told at university that my drawing style was too ‘Hans Holbeinish’ to be acceptable. I was thrilled to have my work compared to the 16th century painter but the instructor saw it as a negative and stated that I had to develop a completely different style that was more with the modern market trend. So I gave it a go at trying to develop a style that was more ‘marketable’. That was an exercise in frustration and futility—it didn’t feel true for me and it showed. A couple of years later I left art and didn’t work at it seriously for nearly 35 years. Although hindsight has perfect vision, I do think I would have been better off to have stuck to my own vision and developed my own style with adaptations rather than throwing it out all together and trying to be who I wasn’t. You have to be yourself in your art—that is your originality.
When we think about the many creative people whose work was not accepted at first because it was not in-line with the trend, it is quite staggering. When they first exhibited, the Impressionists were considered a travesty; the Pre-Raphaelites were threatened with expulsioin from the art academy for their vision of painting; Hemingway received hundreds of rejection notices; van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime; to name just a few instances. The development of abstract art, surrealism and so many styles of writing, music and dance came about because someone said 'I'm going to not follow the latest trend but explore what is inside me.' It's sometimes a difficult and lonely path to take, but in the long run, one that is truer to the self.
So turning off the inner voice that pressures for the conflicting concepts of total originality coupled with trendiness may help in freeing you to just create. And you may be surprised at the uniquely original work that is produced!