Anxiety over trying to be original

Gyler convincingly argues that artists are nearly always trying to distance themselves from being perceived as imitators of those who came before them. The solitary genius is held up as an ideal. She points to numerous criticisms of Rembrandt and even Mozart not being original enough. But of course this is silly. It points to something deeply rooted in our psyche.

In [Harold Bloom’s] discussion of the privileging of originality, he emphasizes that in each generation, “every major aesthetic consciousness seems peculiarly more gifted at denying obligation” According to Bloom, the study of influence can be reduced to the “study of the only guilt that matters to a poet, the guilt of indebtedness”. If each poet’s ultimate guilt is indebtedness, then each poet’s ultimate fear is that “no proper work remains for him to perform“. To be free of influence is to be free of “the chill of being darkened by a precursor’s shadow”. Although Bloom focusses is discussion on the anxiety that the artist feels in relation to her or his predecessors, the same anxiety is evident throughout comparative literary studies, even when the interaction of contemporaries is being discussed.

In the introduction to this book, I explain that most of the books and articles written about the Inklings, and even some of the statements made by the Inklings themselves, include emphatic denial of mutual influence. Why is there such a vigorous attempt to deny, or at least minimize, the possibility of influence? …much of it must be understood as a tendency to confuse influence with imitation.

-Diana Gyler, The Company They Keep, p.217

What is more depressing to the artist than “there is nothing new under the sun?”. There are all kinds of ways to deal with this. Schoenberg wrote 12-tone music to escape this stigma. In my opinion, that was jumping from the imaginary frying pan into the very real fire underneath. Vaughn Williams, Copeland, and Bartok openly plundered folk music and lifted it to great new heights. We are influenced by EVERYTHING in our past memory. The very language we use to describe our bold new original ideas is defined by the old stuff. (Barfield would have emphasized that). As artists, we need to get over this psychological hurdle, somehow!