Thursday, April 11, 2013


Amateur photographers that want to be seen as artists are obsessed with the word originality. Even some pros are a little confused about it. In Vision is Better 2, duChemin addresses it in Origanility is Overrated and Originality Part 2. He offers many quotes from Ansel to Emerson but I am going to only share one and not necessarily the most important one but it is new to me and I thought extremely apropos to the discussion group.

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” –Herman Melville

Some of the quotes suggest that originality is possible, some that it is not. As I have often said, art builds on art. Imitation is a way of learning art, always has been always will be. However, at this point I have to suggest that you reread my previous post on the book Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts.  

DuChemin says of the quotes, “Not all of them [the authors of the quotes] appear to agree. But I think all of them are right in one sense or another. There are three apparently different things being said by these voices. The first is that originality does exist, and is desirable. The second is that no true originality exists. The third implies originality is in fact possible but is not relative to what already exists, but to the artist himself. I think we’re using the same word to mean slightly different things.”

Therein lays the crux of the problem. “…using the same word to mean different things.” Robert’s has correctly addressed this confusion in defining the difference between [overrated] originality and [much desired] authenticity.

DuChemin says, “You are already unique. If you do the work you do with honesty, integrity, curiosity, boldness, and courage, you will find your work as unique—and original—as you are.” This is in agreement with Roberts concept of authenticity. Of course, rather than saying “original,” Roberts would have said “as authentic—as you are." However I would add a few additional qualification such as from the heart, soul, gut, the inner most recesses of your being—I suppose that could be covered under integrity and boldness but just thought it should get a stronger emphasis.

Maybe for you being original is not that important and I suppose that is okay. But even at that, being yourself should be. That being among the dozens of reasons that I personally believe that what I refer to as the “conventional wisdoms” of amateur photography should really be called the “conventional impediments.”  

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