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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