16 December 2005

Viewing art: Originality

From Dictionary.com:
1. Preceding all others in time; first.
2. a. Not derived from something else; fresh and unusual: an original play, not an adaptation.
b. Showing a marked departure from previous practice; new: a truly original approach.
3. Productive of new things or new ideas; inventive: an original mind.

It is hard for me to think about contemporary art with out Sherrie Levine's Statement. The whole thing is short enough that I could reproduce it here without making my post longer than usual, but I want to focus on one idea from it. Here's some of the text:

"The world is filled to suffocating. Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged. We know that a picture is but a space in which a variety of images, none of them original, blend and clash. A picture is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture."

I wrote recently about artistic independence, and this post is, I suppose, the other side of that coin. My main point there was that artists refer to, draw on, and borrow from each other and those actions can lead to false conclusions about what an artist (or a non-artist) was or was not doing.

Levine's Statement directs this issue away from artists/viewers and toward the image itself. Images simply are an agglomeration--as she calls it, a tissue of quotations. One thing of value that has come from postmodernism is this realization; that when we speak of originality, we generally are thinking of something much, much smaller than true originality would demand. A representation, any representation, is a re-presentation, a regurgitation of input. Originality of images must operate within this overarching reality, and that means it isn't actually originality.

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