“It is better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation”.
So said American writer Herman Melville.
While his view is certainly popular, it is by no means universal. Artist Shepard Fairey, best known for making iconic images out of Obama and Andre the Giant from other people’s photos, said,
“If being original means having to throw paint in front of a jet turbine to hit a canvas 50 ft away then let’s not be original.”
In ideology, being original is highly championed but I can name a number of psychological studies that show we are actually programmed to seek conformity. This is in turn reflected in commonalities of thought, style, ideas, techniques that are we typically refer to as “culture”. Let’s look at memes. Why is it that a known image attracts more attention than a new one? Let’s look at art. Why is it that the most known artists were exponents of a style used by many rather than sitting in a genre all of their own?
I should clarify that I am not devaluing originality. Creating something original (and good) is more challenging than mimicking, but I am questioning whether artists or audiences really want it. Ironically, I think that is an original question to ask.