I just finished reading C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity. A quote on the last page of the book grabbed my attention. It is powerful, insightful and very convicting. The depth of truth here is contrary, even anathema, to our nature, but has eternal implications. Let’s break it down into two parts. The first part deals with originality in art and literature…in other words…earthly. The second part deals with an originality that is eternal.
Part 1 – “In literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
As artists, how often do we hear that “originality” is an important, necessary and observable attribute required of award winning works of art? I wonder about that word…Originality. How is it defined or identified? Since beginning my fine art career I have never concerned myself with being original. Maybe it’s my 10-year career as a freelance illustrator that solidified that thinking for me, for illustration at the time was all about being unique and different…having a very recognizable style. So, to reach the top nationally, much thought and effort was put into what I now consider the superficial aspect of painting…creating a recognizable and sought after “look”…being different.
I think being different is often confused with originality. Being different for the sake of being different reeks of self glorification…an attention getting, self promotional marketing scheme. We experience it daily, most notably in outrageous behavior, language, dress, arts and music.
When we declare different as being original, we blur the line and become content with less. True originality is illusive, particularly if it’s something we’re trying to manufacture. There is truly original art being done in the world of fine art today; that work is being done by those who give little thought to being original. They paint what they know and love; their work is authentic.
Lewis, an extremely original thinker and writer, seems to agree: “Try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work’s sake, and what men call originality will come unsought. The pother about ‘originality’ all comes from the people who have nothing to say: if they had, they’d be original without noticing it.”
Part 2 – C.S. Lewis continues his thoughts on originality…the originality that really counts…an originality that is eternal, not just earthly.
“The principle (of true originality) runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
As artists, we tell people (I do also)…”I’m an artist!” In reality that’s not really true. An artist is not who I am, it’s my profession, it’s what I do…and that will pass away. What I am left with is who I really am.
Jeanette Sears, a writer and speaker, in her article, “C.S. Lewis on Truth and Originality“, shares Lewis’ thoughts on how we become truly original human beings; the unique individuals God created us to be:
“God is more concerned with making us new people: ‘If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation…’, ‘…be transformed by the renewal of your mind…’, and God is the one who says: ‘Behold, I make all things new…’. God has made each one of us unique and so the uniqueness of our writing (painting) will come from us being true to our real selves as God has made us, not by trying to be something else. In fact trying to be ‘original’ and different and therefore something other than what we are could be seen as an affront to God’s own creativity.
“We become truly authentic as individuals and therefore as writers (painters) when we give ourselves up to Christ and let Him lead us into new life by His Spirit. Then we will truly blossom and achieve what Carl Jung called individuation. Then, if we are speaking or writing (or painting) authentically we will be original and different by definition, for no one else can speak as the real you or write as the real you, other than… you.”
Shown here are two very different levels of originality. Personally, I’m more interested in being the unique individual God created me to be than giving a care about seeking originality in my work. I am confident the former will take care of the latter as I let God do the first part. Blessings to each of you.
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I’m pleased to announce the release of my latest teaching video and book. The video and accompanying book, shown here, along with my first video, “Limited Palette Landscape”, include everything I’ve taught in my workshops. You can now take my oil painting workshop right in the comfort of your home, and for a lot less money than physically being present. (Click image to learn more)
For those that have purchased the book, I invite you to join our new Facebook Group – “Limited Palette Unlimited Color”. If you qualify, I hope you’ll join us. Check us out on Facebook. HERE is the link.
Want to take your painting to the next level? I can help. Click HERE to learn about my critique/mentoring programs.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE.