Your art isn’t that original, and here’s why

Keziah questions the concept of originality in art through a conversation with Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley

I laid the drum pattern down and processed it with that crisp compression so the kick and snare were knocking through the speakers. The neighbours weren’t going to be too impressed, again, but I was providing some atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon. I intended to flex my fingers on the keyboard and compose something, but after stumbling through some dry chord progressions, I soon abandoned that in exchange for a 70s soul sample. Someone singing melancholic harmonies about their broken heart on dusty records usually sets a tone for me, but my inspiration was still lacking. After a few shuddery stops and starts, it was clear writer’s block had sent for me. KMT… let a man vibe out.

I started sifting through an abyss of Soundcloud producers, intently listening out for a melody, drum pattern or sampling technique I rated so I could create something similar. But a jarring voice in my head started hurling thoughts at me: “am I not a creative? Should I not be brimming with original ideas like some sort of fountain of life?!” It got me thinking: where does creativity come from? I feel like some artists will wistfully proclaim that ideas arrive to them as if hit with a bolt of lightning or heavenly mandate – the light bulb moment. But surely creation can’t appear from nothingness.

It goes like that, one generation building from the next, borrowing and stealing as we go, bringing fresh and exciting perspectives to the tapestry

Over the years of bedroom beat-making I have, for the most part, been chasing a sound, whether trying to emulate a genre, production technique or something as simple as a chord progression. In the process I have created something new and gained some ground in establishing my own style. Some of my inspirations did this, too: J Dilla’s early production was an attempt at recreating boom bap instrumentals in the style of his predecessor, Pete Rock; UK Funky was UKG’s tropical cousin; Metalheadz utilised the same sampling techniques that the Hip Hop scene pioneered and Drake… well, what style hasn’t he appropriated? It goes like that, one generation building from the next, borrowing and stealing as we go, bringing fresh and exciting perspectives to the tapestry.

The foundation set by our collective past, in combination with the plethora of influences that surround our daily lives, means you can never truly be the absolute first to do something. You need to be locked away in isolation with no external stimulus to be a complete originator. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say artists create unique adaptations that stand in their own space? I don’t see why there should be shame in admitting that. If you are compelled to create something after listening to one of your favourite artists and in the process discover a bit of yourself then surely that’s a complement to our shared existence. The fact that we seek commonalities doesn’t have to mean conforming to norms. As long as you are in the equation somewhere, then something new has been created. We’re all just standing on the shoulders of giants.

I spoke to Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley – a journalist, artist and generally a great Bristol creative

Photography by Elliot Baxter

To add some balance to this rumination I spoke to Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley – a journalist, artist and generally a great Bristol creative – to see how she felt about originality in her work.

How are you creative?

Creative is quite a broad term. Anyone can be creative, and I guess in that sense, I am creative every day. When I wake up, I talk to the person next to me about my dreams and we create stories from our conversations. In the more general status quo idea about what creativity is, I write every day for my job, I make music in my spare time based on my dreams and stories I make up about science, and I also enjoy art.

The most creative thing in the world is someone giving birth to another human being

What does the word ‘creativity’ mean to you? 

I think creativity is a verb. It’s not a thing, it’s not something you can pigeonhole, or describe in one sentence. Creativity is something that you do. The most creative thing in the world is someone giving birth to another human being. You’re creating something out of nothing, and you can’t decide what it’s going to be, the outcome of it just is. That’s ultimate creativity.

That’s biblical.

Very biblical!

In your art, where does your creativity come from?

I have been massively interested in surrealism in film and directors that have taken on that idea of creating that space where you can voyeuristically watch things in a safe way. Michel Gondry, a French director, he used to make films from his dreams and they would be really sweet films about love, but then the whole scene would completely change and he would be flying through the air with massive hands in a city made of cardboard. Your ideas can come from a space that you don’t have control over – I really like feeling out of control.

Sometimes I can force myself into that headspace of feeling like I can create something by listening to or watching things that inspire me. I call it my creative well

How do you get into a creative headspace?

I sometimes have those moments where I’m in a shell and suddenly something comes into my mind and I have to write this idea down or record this thing for a piece of music otherwise it’s gone and I don’t have control over it.

Sometimes I can force myself into that headspace of feeling like I can create something by listening to or watching things that inspire me. I call it my creative well: an imaginary well that has your creativity in it and you have to feed it stuff. You might want to look at other people’s artwork and take that in because it gives you ideas, but sometimes it doesn’t work and its really frustrating.

You could describe that lightbulb moment as ‘heavenly Intervention’, an idea that’s in your subconscious but at that moment has risen to the surface.

That’s why I think creativity can come from anyone, because there is a part of the human soul and psyche that wants to feel something, and you don’t have to be a creative person to feel. As soon as you feel something your immediate reaction is to create.

So it’s in response to external stimulus?

I think artists will always produce something loosely based on things they have seen or have been inspired by. Everyone has some kind of ultimate stimulus of art that comes from something. I love Michel Gondry so maybe subconsciously his ideas have weaved into my stories, but they are just not so obvious.

The outcome will always be subjectively looked upon by someone else and they will find things to connect it to because that’s how we understand the world around us.

Would you say your work is original then?

I would like to say it’s original… I think it’s original. Those moments where things come to me are definitely moments of originality. The outcome will always be subjectively looked upon by someone else and they will find things to connect it to because that’s how we understand the world around us.

Is it important for your work to be original?

As long as I know it has come from me, and it isn’t something I have literally reproduced from someone else, then I’m happy about that.

To not be original is a conscious decision. You would have to say, “I like this artist, lets recreate this.” If you are freely creating artwork you are less conscious of that.

Is there any less value in reproducing a previous style or practice?

There are definitely levels to it. As long as it has heart and soul and you put your own flair on it… without that I find it a bit sad. You have wasted your space and time to be creative. I think creating does get confused with replicating.

Andy Warhol based a lot of his work around replication, commenting on the snobbery of fine art and how art is often commodified. Is that being any less original?

No, he turned images that had an original meaning and changed the meaning of those images. His way of replicating images is being creative, it’s not just making something the same as it was before.

So instead of originality would it be more accurate to say unique adaptation? How the ideas are received are original in how they arrive to you, but how you choose to express yourself through them is how you can be authentic and unique.

Yeah, changing the meaning of things and changing what something means to you through your creative tools.

Do you have any closing thoughts on original art?

Original art is quite a loaded term. I think anyone can make something they think is original, but other people can tear down that idea and say “well it looks like this,” but everyone has the ability to be original because you are creating something that comes from yourself and that describes you best. All artists should aim to be original and authentic to themselves, and if onlookers say their work isn’t, then what the hell?!

Michel Gondry ignited a spark in her and the baton is undergoing a transformation before being passed on.

I found my chat with Jasmine uplifting. Her work presents itself as total originality, but it was acting on her inspirations that allowed her to piece together bits of her own narrative. Michel Gondry ignited a spark in her and the baton is undergoing a transformation before being passed on. The intangible phenomena of the sudden arrival of a new idea made an early appearance in our conversation and before I attempt summarise, I have to say each to their own. Whatever concept of creation works for you, run with that. Maybe trying to uncover how the mechanics work will ruin some of that magic for me, but I do reserve my opinion that creation doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s a collaborative relationship with the world around us and is determined by the context it will exist in. You definitely don’t have to be a creative genius to have an idea and make something unique.

No matter what level you’re at, stay inspired, pick up your tools and be daring enough to add yourself to the equation. This is the way we widen the expanse of our collective conscious.

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