Originality: Own Your Influences

Wednesday 7 September 2022 - Filed under Default

One of the hard challenges for a creative person is overcoming doubt about originality, thinking Has this been done before? Isn’t this just like so and so? Am I ripping off my heroes?

Everywhere we look, we find loads of high-quality content, the most profound of which feels like magic conjured by the great talents of the world for us to enjoy. We may wonder how they did it, despair that our work will never compare, and ultimately be frozen in apathy.

But that’s not really how creatives work and paralysis shouldn’t be the result. Every artist was once a child trying to make sense of the world. They found things they liked or needed to do and along the way time and practice transformed their favorites into a personal vocabulary. Pile on effort, tenacity and some luck and you get the works we know and love.

As for the paralysis, we’ve all heard “there’s nothing new under the sun” but until you see it for yourself it doesn’t feel like a hard truth. Eddie Van Halen was one of a kind, wasn’t he? I’m not that original so like what’s the point? The point is not to denigrate the efforts of great artists and the valuable work they’ve done, but to redefine originality as more of a standing on the shoulders of giants than a lightning bolt of genius.

To play along at home you may wish to think of your favorite artists and follow the chain. Who were their influences? Watch interviews and read bios. Who where their influences’ influences? And so on…

Art appreciation algorithms aside, all this is not to knock the greats down, but to lift the rest of us up to a more playful and productive place. Your faves had influences and created great stuff and so can you.

P.S. This post was motivated by Joni Mitchell who made me think of Jewel and Tori Amos and Weather Report who reminded me of Squarepusher, among others.

If you’d like to see random posts about software, culture, and life, subscribe to the newsletter, or check my, and thank you for reading!

2022-09-07  »  David Sterry