Monday, July 21, 2008

Originality and the Collective Unconscious

My theory is that, on some level, artists tap into what Jung called the collective unconscious, referred to as "a reservoir of the experiences of our species," [ 2 ]← for the sources of our inspiration. The ways in which art becomes realized differ according to culture (both musical and sociological), experience, means, personality, and multiple other factors, but I think at the deepest level we're all drawing from a common well, which is perhaps one way of explaining why many of the same feelings or moods are expressed in art repeatedly.

It doesn't surprise me when I hear similarities between two musical compositions; given the restrictions of the tonal music system and the structural limitations of most pop music, what surprises me is that blatant rip-offs don't happen more often.

The whole concept of originality in art is complex and, I think, often misunderstood. It is often a factor that enters into the evaluation of art, which means it is perceived to be of value, but the reality is that if people started creating works that were truly groundbreakingly original, few people would like them, because there would be nothing there that they could relate to. There has to be something familiar about art for most of us to like it. And yet, if art is too familiar, we tend not to like it because it feels like a cheap imitation of something else.

So, some originality = good; too much originality = Weird!

By the way, I am not arguing against weird music. In fact, I'm all for it! Sometimes, anyway. I'm just saying that the more original the music, the more alienating many folks will feel it to be.

My feeling is that while originality in art is important, it is probably not a good idea to become overly concerned with it. The main goal for an aspiring composer is to develop craft, which simply means a musical vocabulary, so that we can say what we want how we want. And since we are all inherently similar and disimilar, the result will be both somewhat original and somewhat not, which is okay. If the composition is well crafted, it will hopefully speak to some people, and possibly many.

  • [ 2 ]Jensen, Peter S., Mrazek, David, Knapp, Penelope K., Steinberg, Laurence, Pfeffer, Cynthia, Schowalter, John, & Shapiro, Theodore. (Dec 1997) Evolution and revolution in child psychiatry: ADHD as a disorder of adaptation. (attention-deficit hyperactivity syndrome). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 36. p. 1672. (10). July 14 2007. [ ↑ ]
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