New lies

One of my peeves in the industry is that the term ‘new’ is commonly perceived as something that has never done before; seemingly plucked out the sky from the dexterous digits of a proficient genius.

My belief is ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ In fact the definition of the words ‘new’ and ‘fad’ are interchangeable and relative spins on the same notion. In fact anything new whether it be invented or designed is actually formulated from at least two former things. Even as human beings we are recycled objects. Aside from the obvious genetic construct from two individual sets of DNA, the very atoms we are composed of are borrowed. Both you and I are compositions of atoms that were once part of a plant, animal, soil, dinosaur… even excrement (and yes, some people more than others!) A well established maxim in physics is that ‘Energy is never created merely transferred’. Considering the earth itself was created from cosmic matter, there is truth in the Moby song ‘we are all made of stars.’

Creation occurs through an act Arthur Koestler coined ‘bisociation’ – the intersection of two individual planes of logic at an exact point where both concur. It is the same model for the moment of discovery and for the revelation at the punchline of a joke. This is why anything created HAS to be part-recycled. Anything invented is just the combination of something pre-existing with another plane of logic applied to it in [perhaps] a previously in-conceivable fashion. The more of a jump to reach this idea the more original the credit due. This act of creation is universal; its the same for graphic designers, artists, musicians and engineers.

It’s noteworthy that even the golden section originates from recurring measurements observed in nature. These underlying proportions have been taken and applied to aesthetics in multiple fields of study. A prominent example of this usage is by French architect Le Corbusier.

In the context of design, this construct from two things often occurs in the scenario where the designer has something already but needs an exciting ‘twist’ on it. When it comes down to the sourcing of the additional ‘second plane’ of logic, the phrase ‘Talent borrows, genius steals’ applies unashamedly widespread throughout the creative industry.

“Nothing is original, steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from–it’s where you take them to.” –– Jim Jarmusch

In his most famous book of essays, celebrated graphic designer Paul Rand stated why a designer collects other stimulus: “The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets. The scrap heap and museum are embraced with equal curiosity. He takes snap shots, makes notes, records impressions on tablecloths or newspapers, on backs of envelopes or matchbooks. Why one thing and not another is part of the mystery, but he is omnivorous.”

“Wildly heterogeneous as his inspirational treasures appear, curiosity is the common denominator and the pleasure of discovery an important by-product. The artist takes note of that which jolts him into visual awareness. Without the harvest of visual experience he would be unable to cope with the plethora problems,  mundane or otherwise, that confronts him in his daily work.” — Paul Rand, A Designers Art

Therefore the only originality in the design industry is originality in where you steal from.


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