Originality Vs Authenticity

I recently listened to a podcast that featured a discussion with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love among other books. The discussion of the…

I recently listened to a podcast that featured a discussion with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love among other books. The discussion of the interview centered around creativity and her new book, Big Magic. The discussion spawned a thought that I cannot get out of my head. Why is it that we value originality more than authenticity in our culture? Let me unpack this thought a little bit. The root of the word is origin. Originality springs forth, we assume, when we create something of which we are the origin. Originality is this idea of “make it new” that TS Elliot spoke about. Originality is a perception that we are making something all together new.

This seems a little presumptuous though. A newer concept that has gained acceptance lately is that everything is a remix. Everything that we do, no matter how creative, is building upon something else. At life’s most basic level we do not create ourselves or choose ourselves to be born into this world. We are the creative work of others who are in turn the creative work of their parents and on and on and on.

Unfortunately, our social structures tell us something different. For example, plagiarism detection in higher education is a multi million dollar industry. We tell students that their work must be original or  they will face penalties such as failing the class or expulsion from school.

Patents carry this idea into adulthood. An outside entity, the USPTO, determines if an idea is “original” and then grants a patent certifying that idea. One look at the latest news about the USPTO will tell you that even an organization whose whole purpose is to determine if an idea is original has an extremely hard time knowing what qualifies and what doesn’t.

Originality, when examined, seems to be a thinly veiled gatekeeper that allows us as a culture from early on to place value on people’s creativity. We tell a few people, “oh you really have original ways of saying things, you should be a writer.” And we tell others, “the chord progressions you use are just copies of Katy Perry songs, I don’t think you’ll ever make it in music.” This, as an aside, is another way in which we kill our creativity, by requiring it to be our source of income. Blog post coming…

There is another angle to evaluating creativity that may be more helpful. That idea is authenticity.

Authenticity seems to be a common thread that we as humans gravitate toward.

Why is it that, without trying, we alway have our mental radar tuned with a “crap detector.” When that radar goes off it might be slight and we just think, “something was a little off.” Or the trigger might be large and you will know exactly what is going on and a conversation leaves you feeling violated and icky inside.

On the flip side, we love it when our heroes, idols and mentors are authentic and real. That quality that we can innately sense may show through in a lyric, in an interview or in a certain camera angle. It is that quality that we innately sense as humans as a connecting moment. A connection was made that allowed us to know the creator in a way that was true to who they are. In this moment, our defensive mental radar is taken down and the creative moment is allowed to impact us. It doesn’t matter whether the chord progression has been used before, if the phrase has already been turned that way. What matters, is that at this time, for these people, in this place, that gesture, whatever it might be, has allowed a connection to be made, meaning to be shared and the creative work given life.

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October 16, 2015 @ 12:48 am Trackback URL No Comments on Originality Vs Authenticity