Bothered About Originality

bothered about originality. artist: Jenny Baird

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” -C.S. Lewis

I hope C.S. Lewis is right. Because, I had the realization last night that I care more about being authentic than I do about being creative. Although I would love to be a “brilliant” artist, whose work is original, groundbreaking, and influential, I just don’t know that it’s going to happen. I’m not Debussy (whose teacher told him he couldn’t use chords with the ninth interval in them for his compositions – which Debussy did – that only geniuses could accomplish that), or G-Dragon (who writes a song and has the entire performance/stage design/music video concept already in his head), or Ryan Tedder (who’s written and produced for practically everyone on the planet; ok, the list might not be quite that long, but still). I don’t think the most outside the box of anyone I know, and am constantly astounded by artists who do things I would never think to do.

On one hand, that can be discouraging, because I think, “Man, I probably won’t leave a serious artistic mark the way these people do.” I mean, it’s sort of a bummer, as an artist, to think that you might not have quite as much artistic greatness in you as you hope.

On the other hand, it throws into sharp relief that which really matters. Madeleine L’Engle gets right to the heart of what I believe about being an artist in her book, Walking on Water, and it guides me as I think about creativity. She says this about artists, “For an artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone…We are to be in this world as healers, as listeners, and as servants.”  And again, “ Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been still-born…So there is no evading the fact that the artist yearns for ‘success,’ because that means that there has been a communication of the vision: that all the struggle has not been invalid.”

And I realize. At the end of the day, what I really care about is that my art communicates, and serves its listeners, aids their healing and growth and nourishment, the way so many other artists’ work has done for me. What I really care about is putting something out there that is, at its core, true and real.

Now, that’s not to say that I don’t try to get out of my normal creative confines, and expand myself as an artist. Try things I normally wouldn’t try. Look for ways to be different than what’s already out there, different than what I’ve done in the past. But the bottom line is this, I don’t want to create art that is “out of the box” or “creative” (but that doesn’t resonate within my own heart) simply because I want to be considered innovative – I believe this would inevitably produce art that may look creative at the outset, but would fall flat with anyone who interacts with it. What a dreadful thought.

So, without copping out in my pursuit of growth and excellence in my own art, I find myself coming to terms with my strengths and weaknesses as an artist, surrendering to the fact that major artistic impact won’t, perhaps, be in my future, but feeling wholly compelled by the fact that impact of a different sort may very well be beckoning.

Side note: It occurs to me that some of the artists I listed have whole TEAMS of people around them, helping to shape them, collaborating with them, and pushing forward a decided upon vision. So maybe I shouldn’t be too discouraged by my own perceived lack of creativity as a sole person. Maybe the brilliance of G-Dragon and Ryan Tedder are a testament to collaboration and the sum of the parts? Or maybe they really are prodigies; somebody’s got to be. Maybe I’ll get to meet these guys someday and ask them. *keep dreaming Jenn*


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