Creativity is based on innovation. One must succeed in thinking of a new idea before one can succeed in creating. Artwork without innovation is nothing more than a carbon copy. If you’re not first, you’re last….
These are some of the beliefs that I have held onto about creativity and art for the extent of my life. And I now believe that they are entirely wrong.
I have developed these false assumptions about what dictates good art from bad art off of a variety of influences, from the media to textbooks. But I have to say the worst purveyor of these thoughts came from my classroom critiques in college. Roughly every two weeks you would put your work up in front of the class, in a row with the other students’ art. Everyone would step back, take a look at everyone else's work. This is the piece that has had their attention and sweat (not to mention sometimes blood) for weeks and then everyone would….. shred it to bits. Look, I get it. It’s amazing how your work can benefit when you get other’s point of view, and you must be taught that the world will sometimes reject your art. Blah blah blah.
The thing that impacted me the most, and that still follows me around, is the fact that almost always the pieces were compared to the work of the other students. They were heralded when they looked vastly different, and condemned when they looked similar. “Where’s the innovation? This has all been done before. There’s nothing of interest. I’ve seen this on Pinterest”.
What I’m starting to think now is….. so what?
I’ve recently read (and reread) Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, in which she presents many ways of looking at the creative process differently. Ways in which you don’t condemn, self loathe or torture yourself. She points out that the oldest form of art is nearly 40,000 years old. That’s a long portfolio for mankind to have under it’s belt, and by assuming that we must come up with an idea that society hasn’t thought of in 40,000 years is a bit daunting. Gilbert states that so many aspiring writers have confided in her that they have an idea for a book/short story/poem, but that it’s already been done before. She wisely points out “yes, but it has not been done by you.”
This was an atomic bomb to my creative thinking. For so many years I have been side stepping duplication, and throwing out ideas that I have been excited about after I research them to find that someone else had done something similar before. But when I sit down and think of it, what is the big deal if someone has had a similar initial idea as me? Do all my projects and series end up being exactly what I thought they would be when I begin them?
Absolutely not! So what’s the harm is allowing myself to play out these second hand thoughts and see if they lead to something unique. Furthermore, the most important part is that even if it doesn’t evolve, this work is still unique because I HAVE NEVER CREATED IT BEFORE. Therefore, it is unique because my techniques are unique.
Let's be clear; I am NOT suggesting that you copy any item that you see for your own profit. Making a mug with the same saying, technique and color combo that you saw on Etsy isn't quite what I have in mind here. But say you really admire an artist's work with Magnolia leaves imagery on the surface. It's perfectly okay for you to make work with Magnolia leaves on them. We all live in the same world, full of the same inspirations. Let them inspire you! Just make sure you do it in your own creative way.
For quite some time, I have felt the urge to work with patterns and carvings. I side step this because they almost always turn into floral shapes and “every female potter out there does floral patterns”. But once I released this vastly limiting thought on “innovate or bust”, and allowed myself to see where it would go, things chancged. I immediately started creating mugs that I have never seen before. Are there floral aspects? Sure are. But finally I have realized that it is okay. 100% original thought content displayed in my art is not required in order for my art to be thought of as 100% original.
With this change in perspective, a whole new gush of creativity has been falling upon me. Items that I have avoided doing because “everybody does them” are now intriguing to me. I’m not worried about creatively selling out, being typical, or blending it. I am creating art that I am enjoying, and that I truly believe others will enjoy as well. Yeah, I’ve started making incense burners, which is the first thing that any ceramic student will make given the chance. But I am making them with my own techniques, patterns, textures, carvings and forms.
Do I imagine this art being in the Louvre or even an art gallery nearby? Not really. However, that’s not my intention. My intention is simply this: to create art that sings to my soul, that puts me in a good flow for my day, that makes me happy and thinking at the end of each day “I cannot wait to get back at it tomorrow.”And if people love it and it lands in the spotlight, that's just extra butter to the popcorn.
So come at me, Pretentious Art Student, with your grand thoughts about how the art world works. That I must create art so unique and filled with my own angst, self deprication and tears or just rid the world of my talents and throw in the towel. Tell me that I am being artistically lazy, and that I am taking the easy way out. I’ll sit quietly and listen to your ideas. I’ll even truly wish you the very best in your work. But at the end of the day, I cannot imagine a world that would have been better if Michelangelo decided to pass on the creation of David just because Donatello had already created a sculpture of David 70 years earlier.