The drive of an artist is to express reality as he or she feels it. And because reality grows from history we feel a constant need for new art. The past has provided great works of art. And if they were all-encompassing we would never need new ones. But that is not the case.
Truly the drive of an artist is to express his or her reality. But it’s the expression that must be original, not so much the reality. Everything is derivative; it must be. So one artist’s reality may draw from others. But if the artist can bring across his or her own expression of it, it is original and valid. Let’s say a group of people start off with the same task, yet they each end up with different results. Are they not all original? We sit in a drawing class with 20 students, each drawing the same still life on a pedestal at the front of the room. Yet, each student’s drawing will be entirely different…original. Reality/expression. They’ve all drawn the same scene, but they’ve all seen it differently and expressed it differently. Anyone can always find similarities between two things. Originality is in the mind of the artist, not in what he/she creates.
Cezanne tried to paint like El Greco, but he couldn’t help making Cezannes. He didn’t fret over whether he was being original or not. The great men and the most original, borrowed from everyone. Shakespeare and Rembrandt borrowed from the techniques of tradition and created new images through their imagination. Reality/expression. Artists should absorb all they can and then express things in their own way. That, in fact, keeps their work original. There are as many ways of creating as there are ways of thinking… and thoughts to think.
Eugene Delacroix wrote in 1824: “What moves men of genius, or rather, what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.”