Sterling Hundley: Being Original is a Challenge

“In a time when the transfer of information has become as natural as breathing and the clashing of cultures sounds more like the sloshing of water, we choose anonymity to avoid accountability, yet strut with the pride and potential of creation. Art is the record of a culture. Will appropriation and the resulting homogenization be the movements that define us?

Popularity, success, and fashion are frequent ringers for quality, but serve better as indicators of accessibility and consensus; the ideal ingredients to yield banality. Folk legends of contemporary art steal from the richness of our history, yet give back nothing. We celebrate their irreverence as if it were charm. Oblivious tolerance of such things is the final marker before reaching the summit of culture and the first to pass on the way back down. Might as well pack up hope and betterment in our sacks as we descend – both born of the pursuit of original thought. No. I politely decline the declination. So I write this as a secessionist of the remix generation. I write this as a record so that these words might be read by someone; anyone. I write this with all the hope that these thoughts are picked up by the same mechanisms that perpetuate the hip, the cool, the trite, and that they may remind someone of the most simple idea – the most important of ideas: original thought exists. Absent the pursuit, original thought simply ceases to be. Its very existence is predicated by the faith in its existence. I fear the consequences of its extinction. Exploration, growth, and evolution of the mind and soul will all fall to the order of unrequited ambition. Throw them in the soup. Line up to be served. “


I enjoyed reading this, especially after having watched Kirby Ferguson’s series “Everything is a Remix” and John Cleese’s advice on creativity. At the end of the day, it’s very difficult to be creative/original/whatever, whether you give yourself a lot of time to think of something original or apply lessons from your own diverse experiences to the problem at hand. There’s no easy way around that challenge. Technology enhances the desire to shy away from that struggle, as countless tools add additional intellectual shortcuts you can take for a variety of basic tasks, such as communicating, or recording text, and also in slightly more complicated tasks such as creating art. There are a lot of copy cats in the world, and while it might be useful to study the art of others, it’s counter productive to outright plagiarize one another. To find one’s own unique styles and ideas is part of the process of becoming an awesome individual. To be rejected is also part of becoming an awesome individual.

I’ve read this somewhere, and I want to link it with this artist statement. Being original is hard. Scary even, because it’s new and different and likely to be rejected by the general public. Even in specialized fields, where supposed experts scrutinize new ideas to test their validity, new ideas are typically the victim of xenophobic hierarchy.

In 1900, Louis Bachelier published his first doctoral thesis on the application of probability theory in understanding financial markets, which was such a profound insight that it is how most people today understand financial markets (like a big casino). Henri Poincare, his advisor, reflected his deep appreciation for the originality of his work, but could not grant Bachelier the highest honour because ‘by the standards of the day, [it] was not on a topic in mathematics’ (Physics of Wall Street, 11). The same thing happens today. It’s why pop culture always talks about ‘rule breakers’ being the ‘innovators of tomorrow’. These people were the ones brave enough to break convention because they had already had enough of it. Enough of people telling them they’re weird, they’re not supposed to do that, it’s not one of the options you can pick, no one will like it.

Well, not everyone has to like it. Sure, there are similarities between us, enough so that we should stop killing each other over it, but we are also unique in our ways. Don’t watch Fight Club.

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