Kristine McKenna: Why is the notion of originality so valued in the creative arena?

Brian Eno: It’s a red herring, the originality thing. People are original all the time, and some people choose to regard it as important, while others dismiss it as an aberration. One of the things that’s interesting about nearly all ethnic music is that it doesn’t pivot on the idea of newness. In reggae, for instance, you hear the same riffs year after year in a shifting context. The idea there is to use a thing for as long as it still means something. The idea in the high culture of the west is to drop something as soon as you can no longer claim it as only yours. As soon as other people are onto it you have to drop it and go elsewhere, and that’s such a stupidly childish attitude.

From a Kristine McKenna interview with Brian Eno in 1980, which you can find in a collection of her interviews called The Book of Changes.


I feel like Brian Eno might be a little smarter than to use the phrase “ethnic music” if asked today, but the point still stands. I think it’s also apposite to the much-reblogged William Powhida piece about everything at art fairs looking the same. To me, that’s not the relevant point. By reinstating the modernist demand that each artist invent a totally-new, trademark-able idea, Powhida is, at least in part, actually shoring up the dominant ideology of the art industry that he appears to skewer.

I think this is what makes his satire a bit superficial. He recognizes patterns, but he fails to get to the significant aspects of what’s going on. Even focusing on the look of objects is misleading. The things that art actually does in the world — the enriching aesthetic experiences and compelling meanings along with the money-laundering and status-boosting — happen at the level of the communities, discourses, and networks that they’re set in. Making a joke out of the fact that contemporary art can be sorted into visual categories (isn’t this kind of sorting exactly what critics and historians are supposed to do?) doesn’t illuminate any of that. Powhida is much better, IMO, when he sticks to commenting on art’s economy.

(via towerofsleep)

I agree with both opposing views.