On Being Original

OK. This is just a post. Not a book. Books could be written about the problems of originality and probably have been. As an art teacher for many years I was always conscious that this was the central concern of the vast majority of the pupils I taught.

The best I could come up with over the years was to simply be yourself. You have to accept that you are a unique individual. Even within your own family, the people who are the closest to you genetically, who have had largely similar experiences and share a common language and culture, even there you are conscious of the differences between you.

Brushwork in a painting is like handwriting. At the beginning of your schooling it is clumsy and unformed. As the years go by your handwriting matures. So does your brushing. Given enough time you will develop your own distinctive marks. The mark of your hand is unique. That is the beginning of originality.

Next will come in time your distinct voice. To be truly original you have to be true to who you are, what you are, where you are and when you are. Your voice is composed of who you are, your family and community, what you are, which is the sum of your skills and experience, where and when you are locates you as a particular observer and protagonist.

I truly feel for those whose experience is largely virtual, gained through laptop and screen. In the same way that no one can learn to paint landscape purely through photographs, neither can one be original looking through other people’s eyes.

This then is a way to be original. The illustration to this post is from my dog walker series. For years I longed for the snow clad peaks of the Mackenzie Country. I did paint down there for a few weeks every year, but I walked Tahunanui Beach every morning with my dogs. More and more I came to understand and love this place where I live.

I still love painting the snowy alps. However, the dog walker series remains original, satisfying, and unique.