Saturday, January 8, 2011

Vacuous Mumbling

For myself and a few others I know (for them and I), originality is a pursuit above all others, a goal to be reached, a success beyond measure. Synthesizing, creating, weaving together new ideas is our craving. It is, ultimately, our downfall, as we analyze ourselves and analyze our work and realize that everything we do is ultimately derivative of something, leading to a personal dissatisfaction and an unnecessary negative self-esteem feedback loop. "Why?" we ask ourselves, why can't we write like Melville, paint like Van Gogh, play music like Barry Manilow? Why can't we develop entirely new things, like they did? Why can't we revolutionize our field of creativity like them? Ultimately the secret, the things we forget to tell ourselves, the part of life that we ignore is that none of these artists were original themselves. No artist is. No person is. We are the sum of our experience, the output of our own lives. We are kaleidoscopes, twisting and repurposing everything we take in as our creative source. The concept of "the starving artist" or the "tortured soul" of an artist stem from an understanding of our kaleidoscopean natures. If we as people experience suffering or loss in an emotionally profound way, our art reflects the profundity of our emotions likewise. If we as people do not suffer, if we do not have any real depth of emotion to draw upon, our art demonstrates a lack of depth. It's not to say that tragedy (or bliss) is a necessary component of a good artist. What is to say is that emotions are a necessary component of good art. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the art.

Culture, specifically modern American culture, creates the drive for originality that plagues us, and to a larger extent plagues my entire generation. Originality is a marketing hook, a way to sell a product. Buy these shoes and express your individuality. Wear this hat, you'll be the most original on the block. Dang. I'm having trouble focusing on writing this, so It's about to get a bit looser.

Despite this common perception, however, culture (at least, pop culture, the culture sold on television) is a reflection of society and the individuals in that society. No one would try to sell originality if no one wanted originality. While there is certainly a large streak of people who want originality because they're told that people should want originality, the source (the egg) of the problem ultimately comes from people (rather, artists) themselves. Why would we become so driven by this concept? What changed between now and say, 100 years ago? Technology did. More people are yet again exposed to more art in more places than ever before. We preserve art in such vast quantities that it becomes impossible to honestly say "I've never heard of that" of anything in any field. The sheer amount of data is overwhelming and intimidating and ultimately the source of this anxiety. A thousand, even hundred years ago, the only music you heard was music made in the few places you could afford to travel. The only books you read (assuming you could read) were the ones that your local rich man or clergy or (if you were very lucky and lived near one) place of learning happened to possess. Ideas that were inimical to any of those sources were often kept hidden and relatively inaccessible. The only paintings you saw were again the ones in wealthy hands or in church. It was entirely possible to be original because every existing idea in the world wasn't more or less available to you for whatever purpose. As human beings are constantly driven towards novelty and invention, being shackled with the knowledge of every idea and being unable to develop anything new is a legitimate psychic fear. Who are we as people if we are simply re-iterating previous paths? How do we reconcile ourselves as having worth if all that we create is obsolete upon creation. It's no mistake that we're driven towards "consumerism" and defining ourselves by what we buy, because what we buy is one of the few things we have left to ourselves as expression. At least I can buy different things from everyone else, if I can't draw something different than all of them.

Have you ever visited tvtropes? Odds are, yes. It's a website with a reputation for addicting explorations in the categorization of "tropes" or themes represented in fiction. It's a great read, because it inspires a lot of the sort of knowing "aha!" that comes from making connections between works. Ultimately, though, it is damaging to our collective artistic psyches, because it emphasizes the salient point that nothing you come up with will ever have its own individual tv trope. Your creative output will be measured and analyzed and slotted into the website as an amalgam of all that has come before. Here, too, are the tools to unnecessarily analyze your own work even as you attempt to create it. May you never live free from your own insecurity. This is the reality we live in today; an endless spiral of feelings of inadequacy inspired by nothing larger or more significant than our own brains.

The only way artists will escape the whirlpool is through a tacit ability to ignore your self when creating art. To escape the need to innovate by escaping one's own mind. It's an attitude, ultimately. It's a state of mind that is wholly focused upon the creation and not even partially on the creator. The state of mind is often referred to as "being inspired" or "inspiration." Some people never feel this a single moment of their lives. Others are so frequently inspired that they're locked up in a facility for fear of them doing harm to themselves or others. It is yet another component of creating art, and one that has become all the more vital with the conscious brain achieving such greater heights in insecurity. Other than that, the only option is to either become so sheltered that every idea becomes innovative to you, or to be intellectually uncurious, so that the exploration of other's ideas becomes uninteresting and ultimately is avoided. There are other options, but none that escape the insecurity entirely. Some artists embrace the insecurity and self-deprecate to the point of absurdity, essentially becoming depressing vacuums of depression that are suspicious in that they've yet to simply kill themselves because they are clearly not happy and in the attitude they're in, they only promulgate further unhappiness by continuing to exist. It is to the point where you wonder whether or not they're sincere in their self-deprecation and why they continue to put themselves forth before the public if they really have that bad an attitude of themselves. Never believe and actor who claims they can't stand themselves, because there they are, in the limelight, on the big screen, pretending to be other people only so they can be seen. Certainly, they are other people, but in reality, it's still them, and so much them that they are recording them and showing them to everyone they can. Even further, don't listen to the people who claim to be honest and that their honesty somehow makes them that much better than those other guys who don't tell you that they're just selling a product. They're still selling a product, they're just smiling sweetly and informing you that their dick is in your ass while they screw you.

Well, ultimately I've come to the point in this essay where my internal voice insists that I balance it out by saying "I could be wrong. Maybe no one cares about originality but me. Maybe originality is actually sold by marketers and is not particularly prevalent in the populace. Maybe I'm just obsessive about this and the "human drive for novelty" is something that I and other obsessives created to feel good about ourselves. Maybe people in the past had just as much access to ideas, either through simple neighbors or just word of mouth proliferation. Maybe inspiration doesn't exist, and maybe art doesn't need emotions of particular depth to express something. I don't know. And ultimately it's because I don't know that I write. I'm trying to describe what I feel like a situation is. I'm trying to express a point of view. Ultimately, every part of my point of view could be wrong, but it still exists. Arguing against it does not destroy the viewpoint and will probably not change the viewpoint.

That is my method of evading my constant internal stream of argument. That is the only way I evade the stings of realizing that nothing I believe is founded in reality. I believe in the inherent worth and existence of every viewpoint, and I disregard claims of their disfactuality by emphasizing the inherent worth of every viewpoint as being interesting and relevant to the environment the viewpoint came from.

I can't really think of where to go from here, and I just read my last sentence and it seems pretty incoherent, so I'm going to stop. Baring the internal processes of my writing has more to do with me attempting to give my writing relevance by hoping that they help you, the reader, relate to me, the author, or at least me, the author at the present time I'm writing this. Hopefully that makes the work readable and relatable on some scale beyond the simple (extraneous, multisyllabic, imaginary) words in it.

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