Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On originality and cliche.

There seems to be a significant debate happening within the landscape community around the notions of originality and cliche.  This is an email I sent to Doug Chinnery who asked for ideas for a blog on the subject.

Hi Doug, 
I hope this helps...
In truth I don't think creativity works in such a ’binary’ fashion. I don't see that there is a choice between originality one minute and cliche the next. That we are either driven to be creative or we are not. We are much more complex as individuals than that, the sources of our inspiration are hugely diverse, multifaceted and complex. They include both the urge to copy others as well as the desire to make something new.  In reality when we pick up a camera we are asking ourselves to solve a problem, we can chose the simple path of what others have done before or we can chose to tackle the problem head on by looking within ourselves for a response that is personal and meaningful to us. 

I think it was Minor White(???) who said ’a photograph is a simple expression of a complex idea’ or words to that effect. So are those who find a cliched response are simply not asking a sufficiently complex question of themselves? Actual creativity is akin to problem solving, the vast majority of the solutions are piecemeal, but it's when they come together that we have the ’eureka’ moment, the joy of resolution. (I won't use the word ’answer’ here because, for me at least, art is as much about asking questions as answering them.) That surely is one of the great pleasures of life. And resolving a complex question is infinitely more satisfying than answering a simple question. Creativity for me is akin to listening to a difficult piece of music or reading a difficult poem, the more of ourselves we have to put in, the greater the potential rewards. 

We obviously have to accept that there is a disjunct between those who see photography as primarily a way of making a living and those who see it as a form of personal expression. Many of us, like you and me, exist in both worlds, but it's the standpoint that is important.  Whilst we all have to eat, we should not value what we do to make a living as highly as we do our own personal expression. The latter is what enriches our soul and makes life worth living. The former is a means to an end.

In the early Fifties, a Rothko could have been bought for for 120 bucks, now they are worth $120 million. The Impressionists couldn't sell their work through galleries, but were reliant on a tiny number of rich benefactors. And look what happened to them! So maybe commercial value is not the best way of assessing the worth of an image? Of course it isn't!

The true value of a work should be the value it has for the creator and the viewer; any other form of assessment is a simple corruption of society and is to misunderstand the pleasure that creativity brings. It is one of the greatest aspirations of mankind, it is one of the privileges of being human and can enrich and deepen our humanity. What’s not to like?