The fetish of originality

November 17, 2009

Interesting study over at Technology Review

When it comes to creativity, it’s easy to imagine that more is better. Creativity lies at the heart of science. It solves problems and drives innovation. Then there’s the small matter of art and literature. Humanity’s self expression and aesthetic explorations are born of our creative drive.
And yet creativity has its downsides too, say Stefan Leijnen and Liane Gabora at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Creative solutions can only spread if they are adopted by other individuals. These imitators play an important role in society. They act as a kind of memory, storing the results of successful creative strategies for future generations. But the time that individuals spend creating means less time imitating. Clearly we cannot all be creators all the time but neither can we all be imitators.

This reminds me of something I heard Adam Phillips say at a discussion to the effect that there is a fetish of originality as though that were the optimal state – an achievement of the fantasy of perfection. Perfection and originality are lonely states and I think there’s something very interesting in Leijen and Gabora’s contention that originality has it’s downsides because it really is only in the adoption of ideas that they truly live – and let’s face it – what act of creativity is a solitary one? I’m of the belief that creativity is a collaborative endeavour.
I like this point from Artworld Salon also

Come to think of it, this latter scenario bears some resemblance to the current state of play in the art world, where following in earlier innovators’ footsteps is seen as a somewhat pass√© notion. Instead, it’s all creativity all of the time. The Canadian researchers have drawn up a chart to find a productive mix of innovation and copying. Where would a healthy balance lie for the visual arts?

Hat tip to Artworld Salon

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