ORIGINALITY – WHERE’S IT GONE?

Intertextuality is an unavoidable phenomenon in the arts. It refers to the borrowing of aspects from previous texts by the artist for his own work, be it ‘obligatory, optional or accidental’ (Fitzsimmons, 2013). One could argue that quite a percentage of art is intertextual, because most artists have been influenced or inspired by other works, therefore inescapably applying such effects into their creations.

The more time passes, the harder it becomes to come up with something that does not draw from an established form. It’s an almost unattainable task. We can’t help but go back to what’s already been done. Without the use of the past as a source bank, we wouldn’t have much flesh on our artistic skeletons, which means that…

…we’re running out of ideas.

The first shred of evidence of this transpired after the end of modernism. We refer to what came after World War I as postmodernism. We couldn’t even give the period an original title. We had to be intertextual about it and borrow the previous classification. We ran out of ideas to such an extent that we couldn’t even come up with a name. Each period had a pioneering label, describing the unique concepts and sociological approaches of the respective time. The word renaissance is the French noun for ‘rebirth’, which is fitting for a time where there was a rediscovery of the human as an autonomous individual. Modernism describes a period where there was a thirst for newness and industrialisation through the rejection of traditional conformities, both artistic and societal. Postmodernism is what it says on the tin. It’s basically anything that comes after modernism. What specific qualities or characteristics it refers to, we can’t really make an indication.

My above argument is of course debatable, as many scholars still argue on where to exactly mark the beginning and end of the Modern era. Many will also argue that the terms I’ve mentioned can only be used in reference to particular art movements which do not necessarily correlate with the time period. But I’m sure you get the gist of what I’m trying to say. In a nutshell, this age is really just an extension of modernism – a continuation of what it gave us, but decadently milked and multiplied by ten. More machines. More progress. More rejections. More individuality…

Only we’re not that individual any more, are we? We’re not as individual as past generations would have liked us to be. What would the punks of the 70s say about our lack of angst and anarchy? What do 80s rockstars have to say about the purpose of our musicians? Only a few weeks ago in her autobiography, Grace Jones denigrated today’s so-called risqué pop stars. They try so hard to be shocking, so avant-garde without realising that it’s all been done before, sweetie:

“The problem with […] the Nicki Minajes and Mileys is that they reach their goal very quickly. There is no long-term vision, and they forget that […] you have to fight the system that solidifies around you in order to keep being the outsider you claim you represent. There will always be a replacement coming along very soon […]

nicki-miley

Image: (left) Nicki Minaj, (right) Miley Cyrus

They dress up as though they are challenging the status quo, but by now, wearing those clothes, pulling those faces, revealing those tattoos and breasts, singing to those fractured, spastic, melting beats – that is the status quo. You are not off the beaten track […] You are in the middle of the road.”

We’ve fried the battery of edginess. We think we’re innovative simply because we came later. We smirk at the blind ignorance of the Middle Ages and the rigid conformity of the Victorian era, yet we’re not as different as we pride ourselves to be. The sheep mentality is very much the fulcrum of our society today. We all look the same because we all contour like Kim Kardashian. We all take selfie after self-absorbed selfie. We all hashtag. We’re bored of each other’s Instagram posts, but we’ll never admit to it because #digitalage.

Oh, so we did come up with a title. We actually got round to coming up with a label. That’s a relief.

Further proof of our fading ability of originality can be found on Broadway and the West End. Les Misèrables has just celebrated its 30th birthday, and editor of The Stage, Alistair Smith, has asked when the next Les Mis is going to come along. There are posters for The Bodyguard Musical and Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical all over the tube stations. There’s even a Calendar Girls musical composed by Gary Barlow on the way (though, I’m definitely and proudly not complaining about this one.) Instead of coming up with original story lines, we’re just adding jazz hands to any forgotten hit film that we can salvage from the archives. The cracks of waning creativity can also be seen in the fashion industry. I’ve already written about how designers are reproducing the 70s and 90s, and as my mother and I leisurely scroll through ASOS, mummy points at almost every item going, ‘I had a pair of those’, ‘Oo, wore that in the 80s’, and ‘Yep, I remember those! Had one just like it!’ So, I might as well rummage through her old wardrobe and recycle whatever’s left then, because it’s clearly all been done before.

Do I come bearing a solution to all of this? Of course not. I’m just as clueless as everyone else. Hell, I can’t even think of a finalising conclusion for this article. I’ve run out of conclusions. They’ve all been done before. Why bother?

How original can we be? What do you think has happened to originality?

Let us know in the comment section below.