Good Art is Not Original

Picasso, Guernica, detail (1937) Oil on canvas. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

There are some no-nos on EPPH to make conventional minds scream. No biography. Who cares how many women Picasso lived with? It makes no difference to the meaning of Guernica or even to images nominally depicting his loves. No historical or literal reading either. Art is for the ages; the true stories are universal unrelated to time or place. Thus, one of the most misleading ideas about art is the most common: originality. Art on the poetic level cannot be original. It only looks so; its meaning ancient passed down through the ages. This may sound odd because it clashes directly with centuries of writing on art. Yet just because an idea is repeated endlessly does not make it true. It does make it extremely difficult, though, to change minds inundated by the many variations of the same thought. Yet if you keep alert to what the truly major minds have said, you will on occasion hear echoes. Indeed the paradigm proposed by EPPH cannot be original either because artists in general have always known it. Listen to what William Faulkner (1897-1962), the American novelist, said:

“If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us. Proof of that is that there are about three candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. But what is important is Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not who wrote them, but that somebody did. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said. Shakespeare, Balzac, Homer have all written about the same things, and if they had lived one thousand or two thousand years longer, the publishers wouldn’t have needed anyone since.”1

It's the same in visual art no matter the medium.

Here's a link to some other Principles upon which the interpretations at EPPH are based.


1. Faulkner in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, First Series (New York: Penguin) 1958

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