11 January, 2007

What is Originality?

"Art is either plagiarism or revolution."
Paul Gauguin


Ed Maskevich said...

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal" PABLO PICASSO

Casey Klahn said...

Pablo...Pablo...(shaking my head)

Philip said...

I think it's very difficult to be original these days when it comes to painting because so much has already been done that almost everything looks revisionist in some way. I suspect thats why some believe that painting is over as a major art force and is gradually being replaced by conceptual art which is based on installations. For my part I have no real desire to do this and will continue to paint. I have worked hard to develop my own style but I am aware that I am not breaking any new ground particularly. I'm not overly worried about that though!

Casey Klahn said...

Yes, I agree about the difficulty of painting and being original. I think it can be a matter of presentation, though. Every new artist that touches pigment to support has originality, I think. Unless it's a slavish copy of another artist's painting.
When I started showing at a local "art in the park" type of venue, there was this one guy in the fair who would cross the street to the drug store, buy a post card, and return with it to paint a copy of it. Right there in front of God and everybody!
There were 3 painters at that venue who did a painting of a pig in a wash pail!
Okay, those are examples of non-originality. But I think a minimum effort to paint one's own ideas is enough.
The rub can be being able to present your efforts as original. My heroes, the Abstract Expressionists, were adept at being able to write essays about their work. I think that sort of written self representation becomes a key element in explaining your originality.
I'll write some more, later, on this as I have much to say.
Thanks for reading, everyone!

Mary Richmond said...

In a time when many very successful artists are using wall photographic projections instead of sketches originality almost becomes moot....personally, I just like to paint...my response to the moment in color and brushstroke is unique unto me...even if someone else thinks it looks like something else. To me, it is original in that it originated from me. I love your story about the guy copying the postcard. At least he was right out there about it. With the internet I think there's a lot of copying going on that isn't so honest. Isn't the fun, the challenge of being an artist that we distill the world through our own unique filters? I suppose one could argue that the guy copying is doing that, too, in his own way. He's just using someone else's filters as well as his own, which may fill his pocketbook but may leave him empty elsewhere. Anyway, I don't think the old masters worried about originality. They painted in the tradition they were taught and the subject matter that was expected for the most part. The camera challenged all that. As for Van Gogh, he painted the only way he knew how. He simply did what he had to do in the way he had to do it, the way he saw and felt it. I don't think he worried about it as intellectually or philosophically as the art historians have done. Is there any such thing as originality? Good question...and one that's been asked before ;-)

Casey Klahn said...

Hey, Mary. Good to hear from you.
Yes, the photograph! I curse the photograph!
Sorry about that drama. I mean to say that the camera is, if you look with a critical eye, one of the worst representations of the world you can find. Things are all stretched or compressed. Colors are hopelessly lost, re-interpreted by some funny process that I don't even understand.
And the horizon? Faget abowt it!
Having said all that, we are going to the basement to take some photos of my art. Lorie just got a new Nikon D80, which is a 10 Mega Pixel digital. So far, the products have been very nice.
I hate the fact that my pastels are viewed through a photo for juries, galleries, etc. Anyway, this new camera will help us through the bumps. Welcome to the twenty-first century!

Philip said...


Have you ever seen the photographic work of artist David Hockney? He made a great study of how to make the camera more like an art tool. The results were stunning and I tried his methods myself. It was great fun and the models enjoyed it too.

Casey Klahn said...

No, I haven't seen Hockney's photo work. But I will check it out on your recommendation.
My hero Degas was an artist who engaged in every medium that interested him. He is most notable for his ballet figures which were done in pastel.
Anyway, his late-in-life "new" medium was the camera. As you know, it was very new, then.
I have respect for the photo presented as art. My complaints revolve around the popular impression that a photograph is a good, or better representation of reality than a drawing.
An example of what I mean is that in technical matters, an illustration is more valuable than a photo, such as in medical illustration.

leslyf@gmail.com said...

I agree that there probably is nothing new in painting that hasn't been tried before somewhere. Just like with story and script writing. But maybe every 'new' work can be said to be original in as much as it derives from the author's on eye/brain and hands.

I went into a gallery the other day that I really like and has (IMO) a really good selection of orginal paintings, and not excessively priced. A guy was in there taking an awful long time in choosing a frame for a poster of a Graham Sydney work (NZ icon). So for this guy a copy of an original painting by a 'famous' artist was preferable to an original by a local artist for little more in price.

That's digressing a bit. With regard to photography I feel really saddened when I look at paintings or drawings that are indistinguishable from a photograph. But for some people "just like a photograph" is their highest accolade and judgement on what is 'good' in art (we won't start on that again though!). As a measure of technical ability and craftsmanship I suppose that sort of faithful reproduction stands. But is such work truly original?

I do use my photographs for reference purposes on such things as figure proportions and structures, and I play around with them to get ideas .. but I hope that no-one would mistake one of my paintings for one!

Another thought I have is that the search to be original may hold some people back or stop them from painting altogether. But it is widely said that the more you paint the more you develop your own 'style'. So if 'one's own style' is not original then what is?

So the notion of original/originality has different shades of meaning. Nothing is ever clear-cut, is it? And I am getting bogged down trying to debate it (again).

Good post and comments, though.

Casey Klahn said...

Good gravy!
If I thought that there was nothing new to paint, I would take up installation or performance art.
Without too much argument, though, I think the simple definitions are the best on originality.
It goes to one's personal ethic, doesn't it? I try not to copy someone else's photograph or painting, without permission. I try to emulate the formal parts of someone's art, without following every line or form or color.
There are things that I will do. I will look intently at a Wolf Kahn, then take his color composition and turn it one hue over on the color wheel, and try to do a painting using that color choice, but new shapes.
I will take my own art, and project it and re-sketch it to see if I can't re-use a good linear composition, but do a different end painting.
Thanks for the comments, Lesly, Phillip, Mary and Ed.
P.S. The project on Sargent is a healthy example of emulation, don't you think?

Philip said...

I think the question partly revolves aound what we mean by 'originality'. At one level, all work that is not a copy is original. The point I was making was rather more philosophical i.e. are there any original trends or movements in art these days? Once painting had been stripped down to a single colour - where is there left to go? This is whatI mean by all art being revisionist in some way. Tell meif you disagree - do you see any new, orginal trend in art these days? I would make the same point about pop music - lots of good music around and new songs but nothing ground breaking or that hasn't been done before.

Casey Klahn said...

Glad you asked, Phillip. I am trying to define and help create a new art movement.
Who am I to do such a thing? Nobody, really, but I have a fire in the belly to do so, and I think art is defined as progressing by the creation of new things. I do like to link them to the broader movement of art in history, though.
"Colorist Art", or "colorism", if you will, has no proper definition, currently, in the art world. If you google it, you get the hair color lady, or the cartoon cell painter. Any artist referred to as a colorist is (without consistency) said to be one who uses color as a tool in a masterful way.
My view is that there is a way to paint that presents color as a subject (a color composition,not a one color abstract field). In this way, the artist subverts all formal elements under the color idea, so that it is easier seen.
The result is that the emotive aspects, or even the intellectual aspects, of a color story, go right to the point. There is a "wow" factor, and a sense of uniqueness.
Gauguin painted flat areas to emphasize color. VVG intensified color, and identified color as his motive. Wolf Kahn starts with a color, and uses this "Planarism" to pop his colors, and to reference the formal quality of the canvas.
I rely on planarist elements (little to no perspective), vertical lines, gestural elements, and I use no colors other than primary and secondaries. I try to involve as many "pure" values, that is mid value colors as possible.
There you have it. Will you join my "new" movement?

Casey Klahn said...

I used to be a very active climber, mountain, rock and ice, before my kids came along. My analogy from the climbing world is that time and again, a "problem" is labeled as "impossible" by the climbing world.
But, there always comes along someone who breaks the barrier.
There is always a new area to explore, but it costs much in effort and imagination to go there.

Elizabeth Love said...

"...written self representation becomes a key element in explaining your originality."

Perhaps that's where blogs are helpful as they are able to be used this way.

Greetings from NZ!

Casey Klahn said...

Everyone go visit Elizabeth's stellar blog. Talk about color on steroids. When it first loaded, I thought I was looking at wild quilts, but she does awesome color field type work.
Greetings, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Love said...

Thanks for your comment on my work, Casey. Made me laugh!

Abstract Expressionism, Art Criticism, Artists, Colorist Art, Drawing, History, Impressionism, Modern Art, Painting, Pastel, Post Impressionism