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Why You Should Stop Trying to Be Original

I’m perpetually inspired by other artists, and in this business, it’s hard not to be. Aren’t big thinkers wooed by creativity? It’s the draw of the proverbial rabbit hole, and I’ve been down many. Recently, I tripped and fell into a 1970’s electro-pop phase, ending up with a host of German language vinyl added to my collection, and a few robo-dance moves in my ever-expanding awkward repertoire.

As it turns out, Kraftwerk means “power station.” They are revered as pioneers of electronic industrial sound; AI before AI was AI. If you don’t know Kraftwerk, I’m going to stop you right there, because the answer is, you do. Their sound is ubiquitous - it’s been copied, incorporated, and reused hundreds of times in popular culture, in just about everything from music sampling to commercial jingles to movie tunes. Coldplay’s done Kraftwerk (legally). Africa Bambaataa took the… less legal route.

While they’re often hailed as “originals,” Kraftwerk claims to have taken their characteristic sound from the noise of the town.** While the noise of the town is organic, can Kraftwerk truly be considered unique?*** None of us comes from a vacuum, and we’re all, in some ways, the sum of our influences.

While it might be nice to have a Kraftwerk moment, it’s time to let go of the pretense of originality. I believe that if we wait for the inspiration to create truly original art, we will die trying. Disagree? Read that statement again: “…the inspiration to create…” which means that we are being influenced from something that has come before.

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? Fear not! There’s so much light ahead!

First, let’s consider the fact that no one else shares the same sum total of influences that you do. So, whatever lens you are placing over your art interpretation is going to be a spin that the world may not have seen, read, heard, or experienced before. Case in point: vampires.

Everyone knows about vampires, but society keeps coming back to vampires. Who was the original vampire? Well, that’s an interesting story, and the answer lies in tuberculosis, but we’ll save that for another day. For the moment, let’s bring the vampire mythology as far back as Dracula. Without even blinking an eye, look what happens when you rattle off a few vampire myths simply by flipping the lens:

Blade is no Edward Cullen. I’m sorry, correction. Edward Cullen is no Blade. But, both deserve their place in vampire mythology based upon their impact on pop culture. And, looking through each of these examples provides a different example of vampire type.

Second, there’s the concept of genre. You‘ve got the typical mystery, romance, science fiction, etc. Then, there are the offshoots: murder mystery, cozy mystery, classic detective, police procedurals. Each time a number of “things-all-in-the-same-category” of something takes off, a new genre or subtype gets added to the list.

Now, consider how many artists you know that identify as “genre-bending.” To me, this represents an in-between moment in art; a genre identity crisis. It’s only a matter of time before “horror rom-com” gets added to Wikipedia’s list of mainstream genre subtypes.

Third, new genres originate out of need. Take grunge in the 1980’s for example. Green River was a Seattle-based rock band credited with pioneering the grunge sound. We all know how many bands that spawned.

My point is, it’s all rooted in something, whether it’s experience, influence, need, or the organic creation of the moment in time. As new technology emerges, our ability to make different types of art will be enhanced. Twenty years ago, visiting a museum and being seated at a virtual reality dining room table exhibit while sniffing the piped in smell of Sunday dinner wasn’t an art option. Today, I could probably point you to a pop-up show. The first time I sat at virtual reality art installation, I was amazed by the originality of the art.

...until I remembered: I’ve eaten Sunday dinner for the last forty years.

Here's a reason for conformity: the heart button.

OR, be an original and leave a comment. Or...

**the truest possible definition of “industrial sound?”

***probably, yes. Not my best example ever.

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