Nothing Is Original

Posted by Scott

I saw this and thought it made a nice counterpoint to some of the views expressed in the AP Sues Shepard Fairey post. Make what you will of Jim Jarmusch’s suggestions, but in the year 2009 you pretty much have to agree with his initial assertion. Or do you?

via Today & Tomorow

27 Comments Leave A Comment


alex says:

February 12, 2009 at 12:50 am

At school they have a habit of saying, “There are no original ideas. EVERYthing has been done.” I have always abhorred it when they say this sort of thing. It’s a real motivation killer. I don’t think a student should be told everything they are working to create has pretty much already been achieved.

In the statement above, Jarmusch approaches it differently. I feel like he is basically saying it’s impossible not to be influenced, but you can build on what others have done and make something new, exciting, and unique to you. I agree with Jarmusch, but sadly the message we get at school is a lot less inspiring.


Sjors says:

February 12, 2009 at 1:46 am

you could make original thinks though,
but since you shouldn’t make them to consciously (to prevent being influenced by society) and it should not refer to anything out there. No one, not even you, would understand what you had made. Since by default it should fall outside of the regions of language.

I believe that although there might not be purely original things to maken (anymore), there is a whole lot of total original mashing up to do, and the more that is happening, the more mash-ups you can make.


Dov says:

February 12, 2009 at 7:37 am

I work as a designer but I hang out with mostly Lawyers. I’ve asked them a lot of questions regarding current legislation in proprietary law. They tell me that it is actually a very sneaky and underhanded move in favour of large corporations to be able to abscond the individual artists work. If you look at the laws very closely and the current legislation regarding intellectual property rights, it gives loads of power to large societies-anommes, and nothing to the little guy. I say keep on “stealing” away, just as an “Effff-you” to the big guys, that being said, giving credit due is important as well. It’s a tough call between originality and un-original. In my office we always look at current precedents in Landscape Architecture before we start a project. If anything it’s a great way to spend the afternoon with beers et nachos and friends and look as whats current and what’s exciting in our field. I think the creative consciousness is also a collective one. We are more connected than you think and our intelligence is aggregate. Human intelligence has been building for eons and geometrically expanding with every shared experience.


sean patrick says:

February 12, 2009 at 7:57 am

if anyone thinks they have any truly, truly original ideas, they either dont speak any language, are blind, deaf or they are wildly pretentious beings that should learn some grasp of humility.

i love when musicians think they are so original… you are still using a g chord there pal….

we are all environmental creatures, however that is now changing due to the influx of cheap flights and the internet. you are what the people around have been. you will always be a permutation. and that in itself is beautiful.


Anonymous says:

February 12, 2009 at 8:16 am

“There are only two kinds of artists — revolutionaries and plagiarists.” Paul Gauguin

I got this quote from Leonard Shlain’s book, Art & Physics. I’m trying to find the rest the transcript to see if I can get more context on what Gauguin was saying.

Alex I agree with your sentiment about art school and how I used to subscribe to the notion of there is “nothing original” and there is no way to get around it. I also agree that there is a point where that outlook on creation can be extremely stifling and discouraging.

This is in no way a critique or judgment on Mr Fairey and how he creates. (I steal, borrow and sample just as much as the next artist.)
However, I do believe that people have the ability to see things and create things that don’t resemble anything that has already existed on this planet.


sean patrick says:

February 12, 2009 at 8:30 am

“However, I do believe that people have the ability to see things and create things that don’t resemble anything that has already existed on this planet.”

but where do the moments that inspire these forward looking thoughts come from? i guess it comes from what you believe in, you either believe the earth was created by god and everything just appeared fully formed or that things evolve from very little into a total flood of consciousness.

even revolutionaries need predecessors.


frank says:

February 12, 2009 at 8:30 am

I agree with him about everything but authenticity which is a totally unimportant and reactionary thing to focus on in art. Still there’s a HUGE difference between say being influenced by Melville’s Le Samourai and turning that into Ghost Dog and outright stealing Rudy Wurlitzer’s unpublished western script for Dead Man. Dude doesn’t exactly have a clean track record here.


Wes Taylor says:

February 12, 2009 at 8:44 am

@sean patrick


Not everybody is inspired by what goes on this planet.
Time doesn’t travel on a narrow single linear backward to forward path. I think the same is true for inspiration.

That has nothing to do with religion or magic.


Matt says:

February 12, 2009 at 10:59 am

I agree with Alex.

I too received the same message at design school. When you break it down, how can you not agree with it?

But what I do is think as if nothing’s ever been done. It allows for seemingly infinite possibilities. Like tricking yourself during brainstorming. But, yes, I believe this quote was nicely composed.


Adam says:

February 13, 2009 at 9:41 am

This quote from CS Lewis has helped me reconcile assimilation and authenticity:

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”


Freddy says:

February 14, 2009 at 12:01 am

Well I disagree with the quote. I think it’s a cop-out and justification for …. theft! Sure, you would be hard pressed to say your work is 100% original to the core. There will be influences. But will you acknowledge them? Some copy cat artists are so bad, you can hold up the two works side by side and see just what they have done. Same composition, same angles. Worse when they do it repeatedly with the same artist. I would say, if you’re going to “steal”, don’t lie to yourself (and others) and pretend it’s original.


Mark says:

February 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Ha ha @ this blog, it’s starting to sound like the beginning of the end for a load of rip off artists. You better believe there are at least some original ideas, or you wouldn’t have anything to steal from would you. It might be time to face up to the fact that some people put more thought into their work than others, develop their own concepts, and are simply more original in doing so. Then you go any copy copy copy, and in the year 2009 you’ve realised that it’s just as easy for your sources to find out what you’ve been up to. If you don’t want to be known for making money off other people’s work, then don’t do it.


Michael says:

February 16, 2009 at 7:22 pm

I’ve read every single comment on this post, and I think it’s important to first point out the obvious distinctions between inspiration, and plagiarism.

By definition:

Inspiration –
a). Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.
b). The condition of being so stimulated.

Plagiarism –
the verbatim copying or imitation of the language, ideas, or thoughts of another author and representing them as one’s own original work.

Secondly, it’s important for people to recognize the distinction (no matter how blurred) between graphic design (specifically communication design; influencing and promoting utility) and fine art (promoting deconstructive views, having no right or wrong interpretation, and above all, having countless interpretations).

Thirdly, as an individual, I have to believe that producing original works is not beyond the realm of possibility, (as some of you seem to think). Take into consideration that you were all once infants, and that your family, friends, movies, pets, toys, food, etc… had some type of influence over your current state of being (personality, love life, size, weight, reliability, etc…), and those influences have more or less inspired you to be who you are today, whether it was a conscious, or subconscious influence.

For example: My mother was an abusive alcoholic when I was growing up, and because of this, I’ve committed to never drinking alcohol. In so many ways, she has inspired me to live my life without the distraction of alcohol.
I know there are others out there whom have had similar situations growing up, but does that make us, individually, less unique? Lets assume (for the sake of argument) that we’re still unique little butterflies… :)

Based on that fact, and the supporting fact that no two people are the same; can it be said that we, as individuals, (being of a collective mind / institution, or not) have no individuality whatsoever? I don’t know, that sounds pretty absurd to me.

So, going back to the “original” quote of Jim Jarmusch, I have to say, I believe his deconstructive views on originality (or lack there of, from his point of view) are pretty absurd. The very fact that he wrote something in his own unique vocabulary, regardless of this preexisting philosophy of “nothing is original”, negates the very point he’s trying to make. In fact, that philosophy is more or less an oxymoron.

I think an appropriate philosophy would be that, originality (in the broadest sense) is like the core of a venn diagram. And, although that venn diagram analogy might make more sense as a whole, ultimately it’s irrelevant as a graphic designer. WE, (as graphic designers) should be more concerned with our work being innovative, and less concerned with our work being truly original.

Inspiration stems from preexisting sounds, smells, flavors, words, and / or images, and our reaction will determine the final outcome to be either innovative, derivative, or outright plagiarism.

Like a man & women, giving birth to a NEW baby; Is this baby a carbon copy of it’s parents? Or is the baby a collection of dominant and recessive genes, stemming from both parents, creating a truly unique life form?

In closing, if you truly believe that bum philosophy of “nothing is original” then you must live outside of time. Because unless you’ve been all over the space time continuum (if there even is such a thing), you cannot predict the future, and you cannot relive the past, nor can the future have any influence over the past (at least not yet). Therefore (ergo for you pretentious readers), only the past and present can influence, AND create a very unique, original, innovative future. If this wasn’t possible, then none of you would be looking at the computer screen, and / or iphone you’re looking at now, and we would all be living in caves, naked.

“nothing is original” = pretentious & apathetic.



Angel says:

February 21, 2009 at 9:06 pm

Well, this thought have a lot points of view… and SORRY Michael, one signification.

Jim Jarmusch is so cleary when he said ” It’s not where you take things from- it’s where you take them to.”

So, nothing is original, all the things come from the a “first” idea. If you want to do something “original”, of course you can do ! But, don’t forget what your mind are receiving information all the time.

Get an idea, this is the point !

Thanks Scott !