The following Shuffle editorial — the first of its kind — was inspired by a recent conversation in this community on the subject of Originality. Thanks to your thoughtful contributions, we were propelled to dive into the subject and see what treasures we could resurface with.
...I can't really just think of creativity as a muse deciding to bless me with an idea. I have to think of creativity as a two beings working together, healing and opening each other simultaneously.
Sarah Ratermann Beahan
As we’ve put our energy into building a thriving creative community on Shuffle, we’ve often wondered about how you, our members - who exemplify a wide variety of professional and creative pursuits - apply and consider originality in your own processes. Does it tend to be a guiding star on one’s path or an alluring but misleading distraction?
This is why we opened up the conversation to you — and here is what we found through our discussion:
The definition and pursuit of originality is a timeless quest, one that is unbound by categorical interest and considered by many as a great measurement of human success. Whether in creative or empirical fields, originality - in its emphasis or dismissal - has long played a critical role in how we evaluate our processes, creations and even our discoveries. In the supernova strobe-light that is today’s attention economy, this age-old preoccupation with originality is thrown into even more brilliant definition. From fine art and scholarly endeavors to culinary artists and YouTube stars, everyone seems to be on the prowl for an original concept, to unveil their unique contribution. Still, some have argued that originality is an irrelevant, even detrimental, consideration for those working to forge new paths in their field.
We found that for some, placing too much focus on originality only results in a state of paralysis. Originality, in these cases, acts as the covert and villainous thief of inspiration - a self-defeating aim that often leads to accomplishing very little. As Salvador Dali put it, those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing. Yet for others, the pursuit of originality is a means of challenging oneself to reach for less convenient and more creative solutions. To not just rely on the first impulse, but to dig deeper.
In thinking through the varied ways that artists and thinkers relate to originality, it quickly became clear that in order to understand any of its potential, we first had to look at its definition. Is originality the consideration of a subject never previously articulated? Or is originality something inherent to each individual - a unique creative magma that always flows, regardless of subject?
Variations of most stories have already been told. What makes a piece of writing or art unique to the creator is how they personally view the world and try to express that view.
The perspectives brought forward by educators, writers and authors in our Literary Arts community generally agreed that everyone does indeed carry a signature Voice. Intricately derived from a combination of our personal narratives, generations of hand-me-down behaviors and that lil’ spark sometimes called spirit, every voice has its own signature. In this light, to be original is to nurture what we already and will always have.
However, one of the challenges in nurturing this creative spark is another collective trait: the urge for survival and social acceptance. Say hello to conformity. As a means of finding safety and security within a community or culture, conformity is the natural antithesis of originality (don’t stand out from the crowd!). This may be a moot point, if it weren't for the ominous fact that many social norms lack innocence and are in fact established as a means of upholding political motives and systems of power.
These norms have a way of finding expression through us whether we mean them to or not. Through unchecked creativity or through the intentional propagation of damaging stereotypical motifs, the “social” voice is an important consideration in the quest for one’s own originality. Creating in a bubble, in a manner that is ever-unquestioned and unhindered by concerns around convention or cliche, will likely land you in yet another fairytale trope. Insert a vacantly smiling, blatantly aggressive white prince who saves the day again here, never-you-mind the accompanying princess that loses her life and sovereignty in the arc of your prince’s triumph… Ok, this is an obvious example, but it points to a crucial tool in the cultivation of one’s originality. Though not implicitly bad, this “societal voice” does encourage us to fulfill and exemplify a set of preordained values, so as artists and thinkers, it is critical to determine what our ideas symbolize and perpetuate. From there we decide if the message is heartfelt. If it’s ours. If it’s true to the self.
There’s a degree of confidence that comes with making ten thousand bad things. The feeling of something settling into the groove of you.
In those words, True and Self, we find answers. To be exalted in one’s originality is to be in active expression of one’s authentic self. This necessitates a stripping away of layers, a peeling back of learned behavior, an intimate look at each influence on our Inner Voice. As author W. H. Auden states, ‘some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about’. The ideal then, of originality, is to submit entirely to the creative impulse without losing sight of one’s self and work in the context of the world.
Like any creative practice, this takes a nurturing hand. It does not happen overnight, indeed it is a lifelong development. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of reminders and practices to offer sustenance and encouragement on the path you share with your authentic creative voice:
Creative work is akin to conjuring or transformation. The process of drawing new thoughts, theories, stories, artworks or products forth from the ether does not happen all at once. It takes a commitment to process, to problem, solution, revision, edits. There will be agonizing times when there is no obvious remedy to a quandary. In these moments, setting the intention to sit with your obstacles instead of running past them will help you to solve problems more dynamically. The easy way out is a time-worn path, so commit to taking it slow. Have respect, love, trust for the difficulty of creative expansion.
View yourself holistically. The things you create are downstream from your consciousness. Remember that it is not only your time spent intimately with a project that shapes it, but your time away as well. Establish rich practices outside of your academic and creative work. Explore new perspectives and invite intellectual exploration in your daily life. Expression is a raw thing and living a reflective life will inform these states of inspiration. Once you’re at your work table, be present and unquestioning. Lean radically into impulse. Trust that the wellspring of insight you’ve surrounded yourself with will shine through.
Experiment ecstatically. Keep the joy alive. Explore before making a firm decision. This is your endeavor and there are endless rivers for you to swim.
How would you express yourself to an entity from another planet? In moments of editing or redefining, look at your work from a universally wide spectrum of angles.
Interdisciplinary artist, writer & musician