Wednesday, March 17, 2010


My brother recently posed the question of originality. Which, though he applies to writing, I thought a curious thing when it comes to photography. Admittedly, every photo you take is your own, therefore a bona fide original. BUT, does it make it original in the sense of thought. We've all heard the phrase, "there's no such thing as an original thought". Maybe. I'm not too sure about that though.

Remember in grade school when you thought of some great picture and when you started drawing it the person next to you said, "hey! don't copy me!" and you said, "I'm not, I thought of this on my own" and they said, "I thought of it first". Invariably it comes to "you copied what I was thinking". This speaks to a couple aspects of originality I think. Firstly, I suspect that the need to be original is pretty important. Why else would we have had these silly little tiffs? Secondly, I wonder if it still counts as original thought if you thought of it on your own, without ever knowing someone else did. Even though someone else did in fact think of it too. Is it possible for two separate people to think of the same original thought without the influence of the other? Is is an original thought then?

I know you are all thinking that this a pretty cool post about the philosophy of originality but I want to know more about photography (don't worry, I do too) so here it is. Two relatively cliche photos of a lighthouse.

Decent photos? Sure. Originals? Most definitely. Original? Debatable. I saw the shot, composed the picture and all that goes into making a photo. But has this been done before? Yup. So what makes a photo original? What makes it creative and not just copying the stuff that's been done before? Is this the stuff that makes it good? I mean really good. Not just decent. As someone who is trying to get really good at photography, I've been trying to put a finger on this for some time now, but it is so hard to define. I guess that's just one of the many reasons art is so subjective.

So what do you all think about all this? What makes something original? and what makes something art? (seriously, you don't have to write an essay response, but if you chose to, you have no idea how delighted I'd be)

What are you trying to get really good at and how will you know you've gotten there?


  1. I think people balance on the edge of art in the search for originality, and very frequently fall off the edge into ugly. I really love your cliche photos of the lighthouses. The composition is good and I LOVE pictures of the sea and everything related to it. It reminds me of the times I've been there. Maybe art is to simply spark the memories and emotions that other people have had.

  2. Tracie, that is a really good point. I am personally not a fan of ugly art, either. But I suspect that some people do like it. I guess something qualifies as art if it is an aesthetic that someone (anyone) likes. But what makes something GOOD art, and not just decent or even mediocre? I do like my lighthouses. But I don't think they are my best. And I do feel that originality (as in: not cliche) would make them better. I'm glad you like them though! They also remind me of the sea, which is something that I love.

  3. I like art that makes me see with new eyes. Maybe that's why I like a lot of close up photos (yours and others'), because the photographer has seen something that I've just walked by, and said "Hey, wait a minute, there's something worth noticing here!" Unconventional compositions or points of view can do that, too. Some times even the ugly can have a sort of grace or beauty. (But I do not like art that communicates the sordid or low or evil.)
    If I see something that makes me say "wow", then that artist meant something to me. But it may not be original, it may only be novel (to me).

    I don't think the artist that sets out to be original for originality's sake necessarily succeeds in creating great art. It is more desirable to communicate what is personally important to you. That's what makes me see with "new eyes". Your eyes. Keep trying!

  4. Just after you posted this I ran across a quotation that I have moved around for many years.
    "Very often one must first overcome laziness and lack of inclination, then there are various impediments. sometimes the victory comes easily, sometimes inspiration escapes me. But I believe it is the duty of an artist never to submit, for laziness is a strong human trait, and nothing is more harmful to an artist than to let laziness get he better of him. One cannot afford to sit and wait for inspiration; she is a guest who does not visit the lazy but come to those who call her." Peter Ilyich Tschaikovsky.

    Originality comes at a price. It comes easier to some and less easily to others. Sometimes it is the adaptation of that which is not original. I know, I've told you this before - when I was painting once a week, I had many ideas for paintings. Now that I am not painting - I have no ideas. The mind likes having something to anticipate.


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