The fixed notion of Community Art is elusive, and yet, community art has been around for centuries. Artists are intrinsically drawn to the world they live in, and for many that means not only viewing but participating in it. As I start my personal journey with Community Art, I intend to find out what exactly it means, how exactly it can be defined, so I can help spread this creative fervor and transform the general public into the creatively passionate.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Originality in the 21st century

When I began to work as an artist I wanted to be completely original, wholly singular. I housed a strong disdain for art history; I didn't want to learn from others or to be influenced by anything. To be influenced at all negated my idea of originality. I wanted to believe that I created in a vacuum, that my thoughts were completely my own. For the same reason I avoided, and still avoid, drugs of any kind, even caffeine for the most part. I didn't want to have to question whether it was my imagination and ingenuity or the influence of some outside factor that created my art.

This was before I took my first art history class, before I worked in a studio with fellow artists and had boundless creative conversations, before I read art criticism and educational theory. In Freire's words, I was ignoring the "tension between the individual and the social practice." In regards to my Enneagram type, which is a 7 for anyone who knows what that means, I was emphasizing my narcissism. I was distrustful, viciously independent, and felt like I needed to prove my artistic integrity.

I vividly remember the day I realized that I had already been influenced, that my culture had already formed and informed me. My associations, my choices, my very ideas had been influenced by the world around me since I first opened my eyes and learned what it meant to scream. After that realization, I opened the floodgates. I had always read anything and everything, unconsciously absorbing the thoughts of my favorite authors, artists, and teachers. But at that point I started to do so consciously, recognizing the connections and revelations that other people could already provide. I learned that I didn't have to reinvent the wheel, or the bicycle, or the car. Those were already done and I could use those ideas to move onto something new and wonderful; something completely my own and yet indebted to the rich history of the world.

My eyes opened to the power of having people agree with you and the joy of reading what you already thought. When I talked about this with my sister, she paraphrased for me what she believes is a George Orwell quote: "The greatest books are the ones that tell us what we already know." Because in this large and lonely world, its always nice to realize that you aren't alone in your thoughts.

When I studied and read for art history, psychology, music, and my many other classes or talked endlessly with about anything and everything anyone who would talk back, I found a ready-made support system, a vibrant creative community that has existed for millennia and that to become part of all I had to do was acknowledge its existence. Suddenly, I was much less lonely.

Now when I read something new, the page is covered with exclamation points and stars. I veer away from drawing hearts around passages to preserve some semblance of dignity, and because hearts don't encircle paragraphs well. When I read, look at art, or find some wonderfully exciting person to talk to, I can barely keep myself contained. I can never keep myself still. My hands fly wider and faster the more enthusiastic I get and I edge forward in my seat until I fly back only to edge forward again. Journals, scraps of paper, and texts to myself contain the ideas that I simply could not keep in my head anymore because I wanted to remember them, to share them as others have shared their ideas with me.

I've always hated when people say that there is no such thing as originality, that everything has already been done. If that were true we would cease to move forward, to make progress, to create. Simply because something has already been written, has already been painted, doesn't mean that when I do it again it isn't original. It is through our unique lenses of the world that we create our originality. Degas's sketch of Botticeli's Birth of Venus may have been a copy of that painting, but it is the original of his sketch. If I were to sketch my own version of Degas's sketch, it would be a copy of a copy. But it would also be a copy of an original, and an original in its own right.

With this in mind, I embrace the ready-made creativity, ingenuity, community of my predecessors and my contemporaries. I put my ideas out into the world and wait to see what new connections will come back.

1 comment:

  1. The internet tells me it's actually Orwell ( And, in a similar vein, an Ani quote... "And your voice sang the way my heart would sing, if it finally knew just what to say."