Don't Be Original. Be Unique.

“Creativity takes courage. ” ― Henri Matisse

Art never originates from nothingness. Art is an expression — a connection that you form with the recipient, but most importantly, with yourself.

Artists often misunderstand creativity. They think that to be creative they have to come up with something 100% original — something no one ever thought of doing. The problem is that not only is it a flawed approach to creativity, but it’s also impossible in terms of practicality.

A concept can be original. That doesn’t make it creative.

In the field of humanities, where every theory, term, concept, and work is abstract and subject to different opinions and interpretations, it’s impossible to really be original. People who judge work on creativity mix originality with uniqueness because they expect it to be different.

That’s what it really means: to be original is to come up with an idea — a groundbreaking idea — that no one has ever come up with. It’s the very definition of being different.

When you opt to be original rather than unique, two problems emerge:

  • You constrain your talent to new, unprecedented ideas, whilst it can run wild and recreate existing notions and ideas in a much more compelling way, or present new aspects in existing trends.

  • You burn out trying to come up with something entirely novel. It’s impossible. You waste your energy on originating art that not only is impossible but also may or may not work.

I can’t help but quote Jim Jarmusch:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.”

In writing, there is little room for originality. We have already a plethora of topics, fields, and stories that we can explore, and so instead of creating new niches or genres, it’s a better tradeoff if we take existing ones and branch out of them.

Success, especially in subjects of art and creativity, is not measured by how much originality is involved in the created content, but how much innovation is involved.

So, stop worrying about writing the next completely-new thing, and instead focus on reworking existing trends and genres, and exploring different sections of these topics. Focus on being unique, not original.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso

Originally published on Medium in September.

Copyright © 2020-2021 by Tarek Gara. All Rights Reserved.

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