Bloomsbury Visual Arts - BAVA Featured Content June 2024


How to be Original

by Jack Solloway
June 2024

The exhibition 'Andy Warhol', at the Victorian Complex until 3 February 2019 on October 2, 2018 in Rome, Italy

It’s a truism that art is not created in a vacuum and that artists are always indebted to a wider community of creators and facilitators in the industry which provides the conditions for their work. Yet when something is truly original and singular in its execution, it is undeniably so. How can this be?

In this featured content, we examine originality, its myths and characteristics, as well the dance between inspiration and influence in creating original artwork.

Looking through a camera lens at a golden wheat field on a sunny autumn day.

Vision plus creativity

Originality equals creativity plus vision. ‘What is creative vision?’ Jeremy Webb in his book on the subject concedes it’s easier to define it by what it’s not. ‘It’s not derivation or imitation,’ writes Webb, nor is it about ‘being experimental for the sake of it, to show off, or to demonstrate technical or mechanical mastery.’ Creative vision, he suggests, is a process of development – a ‘way of seeing’ the world, to coin a phrase from John Berger. Rather than an outcome evident in the culmination of a particular artwork, Webb describes creative vision as a personal journey driven by discovery. In other words, it is a process original to the artist in the fullest sense, as a source of inspiration (i.e. it originates the work) as well as providing a unique perspective (i.e. originality as synonymous with innovation). Discover how to develop your creative vision through photography here.

A seamless quartet continuous pattern emanated from The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

The sincerest form of flattery

Unlike Webb, who finds originality in introspection, contemporary artist Laura Alvarado dispels the notion that great, visionary art must neither imitate nor derive from what’s come before. Discussing the use of digital scans and imperfection in duplication in 3-D Printing for Artists, Designers and Makers, Alvarado believes her work ‘begins as an imitation of reality and then progresses so that the imitation deteriorates and deteriorates until it creates its own “reality of a reality”’. (Read the case study in full here.) Far more than being the sincerest form of flattery, imitation is a vital part of the artistic process. Take this chapter on the importance of using reference images in animation, for example. ‘Imitative drawing is not copying’, Paul Wells, Joanna Quinn and Les Mills write, ‘but an engagement with an established styling for investigative and interpretive purposes.’ For more on the history of imitation from Plato to Van Gogh, read Simon Grennan’s chapter on the subject in Thinking About Drawing.

Still from video on faux painting of Picasso in France in June, 1988

Bad artists imitate, great artists steal

Who said it? Some say Pablo Picasso, others William Faulkner. The origins of the aphorism are disputed and many an artist has stolen it for themselves. Take Banksy, for example. On one of his artworks, a carved stone plaque bearing the famous quote, he mischievously scribbles out Picasso’s name and replaces it with his own. In vandalising a monument to the cult of originality, Banksy pokes fun at our expectation that art is singular or unprecedented, prompting us to consider how this kind of myth-making – in this instance, our need to attribute a great line to a single person – obscures the diffuse networks and influences involved in any artistic process. Imitation, pastiche and appropriation often inform an artist’s development in various and complex ways, and this is a great example of these techniques in practice, demonstrating how your influences inform your capacity for originality. For more on this, read Bryan Tillman as he grapples with the question 'Can You Still Be Original Anymore?' in Creative Character Design (part of our new Animation Practice collection).

Images above and on the collection page are courtesy of Getty Images.

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