When I started doing my PhD many years ago at Warwick University, my supervisor told me something that stayed with me, he said that knowledge was a mountain, a mountain already formed by the myriad scholars, thinkers and researchers before me, there is nothing more I can add to this mountain but a tiny little spec of information on its pointy top. I confess I struggled with the notion of the originality of my thesis until I took on my supervisor’s "mountain of knowledge" theory; it helped me get unstuck and write.
Today, whenever I paint or write poetry, I know that I am painting or writing something inspired by a work of art I saw or something that has already been said. In fact, I believe that that’s the only way to actually create, anything. I enjoy being inspired by other people’s work, I go to museums specifically for that purpose, and I read books in order to open those new spaces in my mind I didn’t know existed.
Elizabeth Gilbert said in an interview: “so many people ask me about originality, they come to me and say I would really like to write a book about so and so but I feel that it’s already been done before. I always tell them, yes! It has been done before, everything has already been done, but it hasn’t been done by you.”
Art gives birth to art, I am yet to see something or read something that is truly ground breaking, everything out there is an echo of something else, but it’s the flavor that the new creator adds to it that distinguishes it from the rest. The myth of originality can become a real hindrance to some artists, so it’s better to acknowledge that other works are out there for you to extend, expand and even improve. There are 7 billion people on this planet, i.e. there are 7 billion perspectives, and 7 billion realities, no two perspectives and no two realities are the same.