Keeping Originality In Perspective

Last post I explored why people are obsessed with originality to dysfunctional degrees.  I noted that there were factors of individuality, a desire to be industrious, a sense of property, a desire for notoriety, and a focus on making a contribution.  All these factors lead to an emphasis on originality in media work in my opinion.  Let me also note that I think all too often originality gets over emphasized.

Yes, in short I am saying that people and groups and cultures can take an emphasis on originality too far.  That may sound strange, but an obsession with something good does not mean one puts it into practice properly.  I feel fear of unoriginality crushes people's creativity, destroying the very thing they're seeking.

Creativity is about imagining and dreaming and seeing new things or seeing things anew.  It cannot be easily bounded or described or ruled, and all of us know that moment where creativity burns hot like a star in our heads.  But if we subject this process to a checklist of what is "original", checking it for originality against everything anyone else has done, we kill it.  We slow the process, damn the creative flow, and dim that star that shines so brightly.

The "checklist" approach, where we suddenly fear that the products of our incandescent imagination are somehow unoriginal, eliminates new ideas as they don't meet whatever half-baked criteria we had.  Ideas die or are twisted to fit some definition of originality that has nothing to do with the creative spark that spawned them.  Creativity is killed by the very desire for it.

The fear of unoriginality only makes more unoriginality, a frustrated people slay or mutilate or isolate ideas as they don't fit their criteria for being original.

Worst of all sometimes we don't want something unique or new, and neither does our audience – making the quest for originality even more ironic.  We're not always in the mood for a new dish, sometimes we want a movie or video game thats a lot like something we loved.  Originality is not always desired – or even appropriate (I don't want my doctor getting all imaginative on me when the mood strikes her).

We want comfort or familiarity or a variant on a theme or something that's not new and different.  That's fine.  That's human.  That's OK.  Originality is not always what we want.

So where does this leave originality?  It leaves it as a laudable goal with its own place in creative endeavors.  Just not the only goal or the greatest goal depending on what you're doing and what people want.

Things that are unique and new have their places.  There are times such things are needed – vitally needed – and other times they are not.  It is best that creative people accept that originality has its place and ask themselves what place it should have in their works, and their lives, and then be happy with their decision.

So let us have our repetitious fantasy novels and our mind-bendingly original video games. Let us enjoy the latest giant monster film so much like the last along with innovative comic books that tell stories in ways we never saw.  Let us laud originality as a good goal but not the only one, and one who like any thing, an obsession over can make us unahppy.

And then let us go what we do best, original and unoriginal, creative and repetitious, and enjoy ourselves and share what we're good at with others.

Steven Savage