The creative process

Artists and originality

Is genius original? What is original? Originality wasn't a must in Mozart's day. He was like everyone else, only more so. Like everyone else – but no one was like him. Artists don't necessarily feel more deeply than you or me; it's just that they can take the fugitive feelings we all recognize and congeal them into communicable shapes. These shapes, if the artist is true, bear his signature without his half-trying. A true artist cannot not be original. To prove it, he only has to copy, and the copy will be as nothing before.

Yet nothing comes from nothing. Every artist is influenced by yesterday. The semi-artist proceeds unaware, and composes postcard music. The complete artist, in his guilt, seeks to cover his tracks. The act of covering his tracks is the act of creation. Aware of his theft, he tries to hide the fact. Poulenc, who never penned an "original"; measure in his life, is always quickly identifiable as sheer Poulenc. He knows more than his forebears, and those forebears are what he knows.

These notions, culled from Eliot and Radiguet, are now mine.


Ned Rorem (2000) Lies: A Diary 1986-1999.  Cambridge: MA: Da Capo Press, p.350.

By Greg

Australian composer and pianist