For the Culture: Is art ever really ‘new’?

By Kayla Drazan

I have been very inspired recently. I suspect this has to do with the arrival of fall, my favorite season. I wondered whether others shared this inspiration, and I soon discovered this was not necessarily the case. Hardly any of my friends felt as inspired as I was, and I began to wonder where inspiration comes from — is it something that occurs naturally or something that must be brought forth?

Shortly, I began thinking of people who have ‘succeeded’ practicing art, music and fashion. I wondered how their inspiration arises. I receive much of my inspiration from nature, but some of it derives from the work of others (I regularly reference William Blake and J.R.R. Tolkien). Then, I discovered that my work often borrows greatly from these artists.

I began to think about John Locke, someone I studied extensively in high school. He believed that one cannot create something that has not already been created. Now, this is not to say that everything is a copy, but everything is influenced by something else. For example, I remember an analogy that a dragon was not created from nothing. Although a dragon exists in a fictional realm, not in our reality, it is merely an altered depiction of a lizard.

Relating back to the concept of artistic inspiration, I suspect all artwork is influenced by the artwork of others. For instance, thinking about musicians, nearly every song today samples another sound, and if it is not directly sampling a sound, it is sampling an instrument. It is repurposing these sounds that have been made before to create something else. Nearly every song on Kanye West’s “Donda” (2021) samples sounds or notes. This principle applies to genres as well as art movements; artists use the creations of others to create something. For instance, postmodernism not only reacts to and diverges from the ideas of modernism, but it also builds off this thinking to craft a unique response. Or take Kehinde Wiley (the artist who painted the portrait of former President Obama), who manipulates old European techniques with modern African American emotionality.

I also remember one of my previous articles, where I discussed Gucci’s 100th anniversary, during which Balenciaga “hacked” Gucci’s pieces. Although there was certainly communication between the two brands, Gucci nevertheless used Balenciaga’s ideas to create something new. The total was new, the parts were not.

So, what I mean to say is that the creation of artwork is not necessarily the creation of something from nothing. Artists are not lauded for their ability to create from nothing. Rather, they are lauded for their ability to change, develop or destroy something established to create something of their own. They are responsible for something profound that uses what has been done before to create something that has not.