It’s been done. A dreaded phrase we hear all the time that is meant to dismiss and disparage our creative work. Don’t fall for it. Just because someone says it has been done does not mean you don’t have just as much right to do your own take on it.
Over and over
Artists have always done the same subjects over and over. There are only a limited number of subjects and not that many truly different ways to approach them.
Are you not going to do ponds because Monet had “done” them? Are you not going to do a night sky because Van Gogh was the only one to be able to do that? Are you not going to do landscapes because there are no more to do after Ansel Adams finished? Are you going to forever avoid flowers because O’Keeffe did everything that could be done?
Of course not.
Are you going to avoid shooting any subject that has ever been photographed?
Let’s see, landscapes have been done; portraits have been done; street photography has been done; abstracts have been done; food has been done; travel has been done… It is getting pretty hard to find something that has never been shot. Near impossible.
So “never been done” must not be the important test.
Every artist repeats subjects other artists have done before. The real question is, do I have something new to say? Can I make this fresh and unique? Can I offer something that will make my viewers think new thoughts?
Writers, for instance, all write the same stories but try to make them fresh. It is said that there are only, depending who is giving the data, 3 to 36 fiction plots. All books are a variation of the basic patterns. A. Hyatt Mayor has an interesting take on it when he says: The really original artist does not try to find a substitute for boy meets girl, but creates the illusion that no boy has ever met a girl before.
Likewise, can we create the illusion that our work is original?
Do it different
Just because a famous artist did the subject before does not mean they created the definitive work that can never be topped or even equaled. An artist should have an unshakable belief in his vision. We should not be timid and shy away from controversy. No critic owns the right to disallow your work.
Creative thinking may simply mean the realization that there is no particular virtue is doing things the way they have always been done. Rudolph Flesch
If we are going to do things the way they have always been done, then why bother? If we are just copying other work,that is not adding anything interesting to our art. Re-envision what has been done. Do it different.
Creativity is not usually something radically new. Usually it is an incremental build on the past. It is the little twist we came up with that makes it uniquely our own. It is our own spin on the conventional way it has been done.
I think artists of necessity are a little crazy. Obsessed. Focused. This drives us to separate ourselves from the crowd. To share our vision and show that we see things differently. I seem to be putting in a lot of quotes this time, so here are 2 more:
Follow your enthusiasm … The only quality common to all great artists and creative people is that they are obsessed with their work. Richard Avedon
If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much. Bill Swanson
Apply your style and vision
Our vision usually applies to the unique way we see the same thing other people see. We will not often see something that no one else in history has ever seen before. The secret is what we bring to the common. Can we make something new out of things everyone else sees? Can be see different? Be different?
That is what we are called on to do as artists. Everything has been seen or thought of before. But how can we bring a new interpretation, a fresh point of view, an unencumbered view?
Finishing with a final quote:
I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it. Garrison Keillor
Most people are burdened with reality. A thing is what it is and can’t be anything else. What a limiting view! A thing can be almost anything we can envision it to be. That is creativity.
Don’t waste time being an imitation of anybody. Spend your life being yourself.