Originality is Dead?

Thesis Project: Book Design & Exploration, 2018-2019

One day, as I was studying some images of Art Nouveau and psychedelic art, I realized just how similar they were. While the psychedelic art was certainly much more vibrant, it was essentially just “Art Nouveau on acid”, The two styles were nearly identical, yet both are heralded as being original.

This discussion on originality is nothing new though, and it has been a somewhat controversial topic in the art and design world for ages. Nonetheless, I wanted to explore it further.

It all began with some questions:

What is originality?

How does one know that something is original?

Does art or design need to be original to be successful?

Is it still possible to be original, that is, is originality dead?

Did originality ever exist?

I began researching the subject, and quickly found that four main patterns emerged. These were:

  1. Plagiarism can prevent originality.

  2. Originality never existed.

  3. Originality has been redefined.

  4. What the heck even is originality??!!

But why does all of this matter? Because the pursuit of originality and the fear of plagiarism can prevent creativity. For this reason, through this book, my goals were to determine if originality still exists and whether it is important or not.

To find these answers, I conducted further research, compared art movements, studied originality lawsuits in art and design, discussed ownership in originality, explored the relationship between originality and plagiarism, covered famous unoriginal artists, and conducted explorations in originality through my own work and friends’, family, and peers’ work.

Since originality is so subjective, its definition and identifying what is original varies from person to person. For example, one person may consider a piece of art new and original, and another will consider in unoriginal, as they have seen something similar before.

Ultimately, through this project, I found that originality is dead. Everything that can be done has been done, but this isn’t something to fear. The success of art and design does not rely on how original it is, but rather on its execution and ability to convey a message or evoke a feeling.