These past holidays I was really struggling to think of a topic for this assignment. Every idea I had seemed boring, familiar and unexciting. And that’s when it dawned on me. That the biggest myth of all is the myth of originality.
Deeming something to be unoriginal- as in anything that bears too much resemblance to something else – is the ultimate criticism. And yet, aren’t the seeds of most of our ideas already planted in our heads from all that we have seen, heard and read?
Even here at school, we are told to aspire to be different and to ‘stand out from the crowd’. Ironically we sing this in unison wearing our uniforms. The struggle for originality is real and to my mind, misunderstood. It’s a myth as old as time. In the bible, in Ecclesiastes or Kohelet, there is the sweeping statement that there is “nothing new under the sun”. And as I look today at our society I am beginning to see the truth within these words.
In the Arts – nowhere is there a greater challenge to say something new or different. And yet, nowhere is the concept of originality more elusive. Creative endeavours are fuelled by emotion: love, jealousy, fear, joy or anger. And whilst it is true that there are a wide gamut of emotions to tap into, no new emotion has been invented in six millenia! So, whatever theme you are going to express, chances are someone has already mined that theme before. In fact, it is said that to know all story lines, one only need read Shakespeare and the Bible! Everything beyond is just derivative.
It’s a similar struggle in the world of art and fashion, where styles we perceive to be fresh and new are often merely trends returning. And perhaps we need to accept that this is quite ok. Ms Prada, who owns the fashion house Prada argues that the concept of originality is totally misunderstood. We inherently must rely on what has come before and simply tweak it a little. I like this understanding of originality. As Isaac Newton once said: “we see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Sadly, this was not the standard used recently in the New South Wales Supreme Court. Greg Ham who wrote the well-known song “I Come From a Land Down Under”, was found guilty of plagiarising the melody from “Kookabara Sits in The Old Gum Tree”. The absurdity of this judgement was widely commented on. Soon after, Ham committed suicide. In my opinion, the court’s judgement was harsh. Isn’t the mind of an artist or musician filled with ideas of old, ideas that merge with each other and naturally form themselves into new concepts? And yet the insatiable quest for absolute “originality” continues.
Recently, the Israeli Prime Minister hosted the Japanese Prime Minister for dinner at his home. At the end of the dinner, dessert was served, not on a plate or in bowl but in a shoe. An actual shoe! In striving to be original, Chef Segev Moshe actually offended these guests of honour from Japan, where Japanese culture does not even allow shoes in the home, let alone on the table! A diplomatic misunderstanding all in the name of originality.
Perhaps we should accept that originality is a myth, a misunderstood concept in our modern age. I propose that we strive rather for authenticity in all that we create – adding something of our own to something already in existence and thereby creating something new-ish.