A True Original

table setting, photograph

“When originality becomes a goal, it is no longer original. The artist is merely trying to be different.”

John Daido Loori, The Zen of Creativity

Here is a most subtle distinction to ponder: original vs. different. What is he getting at? Loori goes on to say:

“The word original comes from origin, the source. Different just means something that is set apart from everything else. […] originality can be reached only through a long, arduous process of self-discipline and mastery of the medium. Then, ultimately, our own uniqueness naturally finds it’s own expression.”

Difference is easier to achieve – just do the next one in a way that is unlike the previous one. Original means that you have connected in some way with an internal source of inspiration. Originality has nothing to do with the relationship of what we create to other works of art – it has to do with it’s relationship to what is inside of us.

The premise here is that we can only connect with this inner wellspring by achieving a state of unselfconscious mastery. I think this is one of the reasons it is valuable to work on a series, a coherent body of work that is explored over and over. I know when I work this way, it makes me much more conscious and thoughtful as I explore new approaches to the subject. When I don’t work on projects in this manner, I find I’m taking random shots, any of which might be interesting and even different on their own, but rarely do they reveal much about me or much that is of lasting value.

Loori finishes by stating

“Originality is born of craftsmanship, skill, and diligent practice, not from trying to stand out in a crowd.”

It’s one of those things that you can only achieve by giving up the attempt to achieve it. When you stop focusing on standing out in the crowd, you actually might have a chance to do so.

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5 responses to “A True Original

  1. The distinction drawn between “original” and “different” is an important one, and I especially like that Loori and you tie the former to what’s inside and to the craft and skill and practice that together impel one after another look, to seeing beyond and beneath the surface.

    The kind of work that needs to shout “look at me” often “wears” poorly when examined more deeply.

    Thank you for being such a thoughtful artist. It is always a pleasure to stop here.

  2. very interesting to have discovered your blog… much to ponder on here. as an artist i hope that originality comes through experience, wisdom (in making mistakes and learning from them), commitment, honesty and integrity i what i do – it is a never-ending journey. sadly the internet shows that for some people it is much easier to stylise/emulate an originality in an instant, rather than taking the much longer experiential path…

  3. I just addressed the issue of keeping an ongoing body of work, (“successful” or not) on my blog. I’ve kept bad stuff just because it speaks to the holistic process that I am engaged in. I don’t think you can measure anything in just a year or two. It takes a lifetime of practice. That said, gesso is a wonderful “begin again” for a painter!

  4. a very fine discussion, insightful and true — and you can’t ask much more than that! i’ve just discovered your blog (through susan), and i’ll be back. maybe susan is right: we’d enjoy talking sometime!


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