Are You An Original Or Just A Good Copy?

“When people say ‘I want to be like you’, I tell them if you want to be like me, then be yourself.”  –Marilyn Manson

 In painting class we had a critique.  Critiques aren’t that interesting to me in and of themselves.  I love looking at art – any art – but watching it be picked apart is usually pretty uninspiring.  However, this time the professor went a little off topic and started talking about the concept of being original.  He said in order to really make an impact with your art you have to learn how to be an original.  Being able to reproduce famous works is nice practice for building skills, but coming up with your own unique signature is what art is really about.  He went on to discuss many great artists from the past and contrasted them with all the millions of people out there who paint.  He even confessed that he, too, continues to work on being an Original.

So, I started thinking: we are all originals from birth, so why is it so hard to “be original”?  I also started thinking about how sick I am of being in school and why.  I realized that these two thoughts are related.  School really isn’t equipped to teach people how to be original.  In fact, no one needs to be taught how to be an original.  We are born originals but we learn to slowly kill off our own uniqueness in exchange for love and acceptance.  So, if our goal as artists is to reclaim our originality, I think the following steps might help:

1)      If you want to be original as an artist, you have to be original in every other area of life as well.  You really can’t do as you’re told, be afraid to be the first one to do something, and follow all of society’s arbitrary social rules in all the rest of your life and then expect to be original when it comes to your art.  The greatest artists were considered eccentric at best because they did what was in their hearts to do.  Their relationships were abnormal, their lifestyles were abnormal, and their work was abnormally great.

2)      You have to be willing to be misunderstood and even disliked.  This is the one that sinks most people.  We all crave love and acceptance but society (and even our families) often withhold these gifts to the extent that we resist being socialized.  So out of the fear of loneliness and rejection we go along with things we don’t believe in.  We don’t want to be ostracized.  But, again, some of the best artists had few friends, spent long stretches of time alone, and had difficulty maintaining relationships.  This isn’t to say that you have to purposely be a loner.  You just have to be willing to go that route when your principles are at stake.

3)      You have to be mature enough emotionally to withstand periodic bouts of depression and self-doubt with poise and equanimity. Being an artist is an emotional roller coaster.  Because we feel things so deeply and put ourselves out there so much, we are bound to have more emotional peaks and valleys than the average person.  And face more rejection.  These feelings pass if we allow them to.  But what has sunk even some of the best artists is the tendency to run away from these feelings by self-medicating.  Drinking, drugs, violence, indiscriminate sex – overindulging in these can cut your life as an artist short, physically and creatively. Emotional pain creates the best fertile ground for artistic genius.  We shouldn’t self-medicate it away.  We should explore it to its depths on our canvases, in our music, in our acting – whatever.  Once we do that the pain will subside and we won’t need to bother with rehab.
I hope this topic really causes us to think.  We are all constantly learning how to share our uniqueness and  gifts with the world without letting the world destroy us.  We can do it if we embrace the originality we were born with and stand our ground.

Have a great week.  And go follow your bliss!

This first slideshow is of the latest show at El Camino College’s art gallery.  The artists are Jamie Sweetman, Fred Rose, and Meeson Pae Yang.  Under the slideshow I’ve posted a few pictures of my work..

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The following are some of my works from this week:

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