On originality in the art world

Last night a friend made an observation critiquing what is celebrated in the art world: the new idea, the thing that hasn’t been done before.

That struck me as a very fundamental point. Our society puts huge value on originality (it’s how you get famous for art, it’s how you earn a PhD.) But newness doesn’t last long; it gets consumed, and then we hunt for the Next New Thing.

I personally am more than guilty of this valuation. I get excited about clever new approaches in any art form, more than I admire technique or facility of expression. In my consulting work, I find excuses to write original text when there is probably something re-useable. In the kitchen, following a recipe is anathema to me.

But there is worth in a well-executed repetition. A chef needs to follow the restaurant’s famous recipe – it tastes good. A business analyst needs to use the standard methodology – it’s efficient and effective. A potter needs to produce 8 matching mugs in a comfortable shape. And a painter can have a good time portraying an apple and a water jug on draped fabric. It’s just not “exciting”.

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