It’s All Been Done Before.

IMG_3155When I was a kid I drew a lot of strange things. At least adults found them strange. I have a very clear memory of one of my preschool teachers telling my mother, “He draws such unusual things.” What I’d drawn was a bunch of stone faces rolling down a mountain. What’s funny is I drew that after seeing a picture of Mount Rushmore. It was just my way of reimagining what I’d seen, because I had no clue what it was or what it meant. I doubt my teacher would have found it that unusual if I’d just drawn Mount Rushmore. About that same time I drew a picture of a bunch of people in a boat in a cave. They were all holding candles. A woman looked at it and told me, “You’re so creative. When I was a little girl I never knew what to draw. You draw such original things.” And I felt guilty. The picture was inspired by my first trip to Disneyworld and the Pirates Of The Caribbean ride. I’d just stripped away all the pirates because I couldn’t draw them and made the cave dark and given everybody candles because, well, it was dark in the cave.

I felt guilty because it wasn’t really original. And I’d spend literally most of my life studying art and art history before I’d realize that there really is no such thing as originality. Everything is a blend of everything else.

The breakthrough would come when I read Milan Kundera’s novel Immortality. In one part he describes art history as a clock. The clock strikes midnight when Jackson Pollock creates action painting, removing the direct contact between brush and canvas that’s been the basis of art since the first cave paintings. It’s the end of originality, the end of art as a progression. It bothered me to think we were living in a post-midnight world, that anything that came after the early 1950’s was merely a repeat of what had come before. Art history was finished, defunct, washed up, in the red, kaput.

Then I realized that’s kind of like saying history itself ended with World War II. History, and art, march on.

If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the graffiti above it’s this: most graffiti I see is abstract. It’s usually a name or a word. This particular work sticks out because it’s a picture of something. And it cracks me up because it’s a narwhal cyclops with, um, wings on its head—a mashup of a few different things.

It’s unusual but it’s not original. And that doesn’t matter. It’s art and that makes it part of art history.

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9 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    This post has never been done before, Chris, and I’m glad you did it.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And I’m glad you offered an entirely new and original comment.

      Reply
  2. Cindy Dorminy

    very original post! The same could be true with fiction. Great post.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And a great point. It could be said of any art really. History looks backward while creating goes forward.

      Reply
  3. Sandra

    I think actually, in my expert opinion, the piece of art above is actually a narwhal minion.
    And I agree with Ann, this post has never been done before. All creations are art no matter the content, but your post are always riveting, and I will not tire of reading of your experiences and the wisdom you bring to it.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Given the placement I think it was painted by a minion. It wouldn’t surprise me if a minion had dressed up as a narwhal and this was a portrait painted by another minion. That seems like the sort of thing they’d get up to.

      Reply
  4. M. Firpi

    I guess this raises the whole question of originality, or whether an artist needs a viewer to confirm it, at least even for him/herself. Even when it’s been done before, an artist may seek some form of recognition or confirmaion. I think that a mature artist, however, will seek to complete what it is that needs to be done, and for him/her, recognition may not be that important.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s an excellent point. Artists go forward with doing what they want to do while art history looks backward and tries to make some sort of sense out of it all. Even artists we think of as being distinctly original, from Manet to Motherwell, were just doing what they felt compelled to do. A sense of history and a desire for recognition may have been in their minds, but weren’t really what motivated them.

      Reply
      1. marisafpr@aol.com

        You’re right, somebody like Van Gogh also, who didn’t sell his work and worked out of an urgent need to express himself, wasn’t thinking of any future at all.

        Reply

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