Is your artistic creation truly original? No, most probably not. How can it possibly be?
They say that nothing is created in a vacuum, true; it’s impossible for an artist to deny his influences. At each moment of our waking life, we are processing images and sounds being thrown at us. Social media and the “interwebs” in general are making sure we’re constantly exposed to the exponential growth of the world’s artistic production. Like it or not, that ultimately adds up big time!
Different variations of the doubling of information theory are all over the place; I stumbled on a 2007 article predicting that, by 2010 (!), the amount of human information was to double every 11 days. As usual, comic book writer Alan Moore has a nice and entertaining way of summing up things:
“As I understand it, at the last count human information was doubling around every 18 months. Further to this, there is a point somewhere around 2015 when human information is doubling every thousandth of a second. That means that in each thousandth of second we will have accumulated more information than we have in the entire previous history of the world. At this point I believe that all bets are off. I cannot imagine the kind of culture that might exist after such a flashpoint of knowledge. I believe that our culture would probably move into a completely different state, would move past the boiling point, from a fluid culture to a culture of steam.”
Yeah, I know, most of it will be of cute pictures of cats, but with this theory in mind, take a look at this impressive list of independent discoveries and imagine how it can evolve in the future and how it applies to artistic creations.
What you are is the sum of everything you have experienced, but the same applies to everybody.
Remember also that while making every effort to be original, you might also be tricked by your own brain, by the malleability of your own memory. Neurologist Oliver Sacks‘s writing on the subject of music and of memory is quite interesting. In essence, neurological research postulates that what you think is a memory may just be a construct of your own brain; every act of remembering a past event means you recreate it to fit an ever evolving narrative. In the same way, it is possible that the creation you have just put on paper or on a hard drive is just a reworked memory of past visual or musical experience.
In other words, you may THINK this new piece of yours is original, but as Mark Twain once said:
“Substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.”
As a creator who relies mostly on copyright laws to make a living (or not, as with most artists working in the entertainment industry, my work is often seen floating here and there on P2P sites), I’m always questioning myself about what I do and if I’m not inadvertently or subconsciously replicating someone else’s creation. In a way, that’s also an impetus for creativity; trying to push an idea further, but trying to be completely original is futile and a sure way to stifle creativity.
Then, how can an artist, without resorting to systematic self-censorship, create freely and fearlessly? There are no easy answer, but there is wisdom in the slim, but nifty book “Steal Like an Artist”:
I’ve also heard something that may have been from Quebec poet and musical icon, Gilles Vigneault (I say “may” since he may have been quoting someone else. Easy to entangle oneself in copyright conundrum, isn’t it?). He said in an interview:
“Everything has been done before, but not by me”.
Yes, all things considered, you ARE an “echosystem”.