Monday, 4 October 2010

Integrated theory and practice: Notions of originality

Is anything really original anymore? From abstract images to traditional sculpture, styles and concepts have been recycled by many artists over the years.  A piece of work may be original to the artist as they created it, so it means something new to them as an individual. However, the messages it communicates will almost certainly have been explored in many various medias by other artists in the past. This becomes more and more difficult as time passes because of the endless amount of artists and therefore pieces of work being produced which are 'original'. The initial concept an artist aims to put across can be so broad that it encompasses many ideas which will inevitably have already been explored, but it is the context, media and flare combined which sets aside one piece of work from another. If a piece of work is simply a portrait painting of a person, this is definitely not original due it having been repeated for centuries, even though it is of a different person or character. If the artist paints the figure with an interesting use of colour or shape, this can be seen as original to those who have never seen anything like it before. The notion of originality is in the mind of the viewers, so if they lack certain knowledge of work produced in past years, a piece of work with this new concept or quality will seem original even if it has been copied. Context can make something seem original, such as in the sculpture/installation piece by Damien Hirst 'The physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' (1991) in which he has suspended a tiger shark in a life like pose in formaldehyde inside a tank. 

This was one of the many pieces he produced in this way which also included a cow, sheep, pig and fish exhibited in tanks, although some were also dissected. A shark in a tank does not look original as we have seen it before at sea life parks. However when we learn that it is in fact dead and in formaldehyde, it takes on a whole new meaning.  It aims to shock and intrigue. The tank no longer looks the same as those in an aquarium, but instead cold and clinical. Being an installation rather than a painting, the piece allows people to see it up close and stare into the eyes of a defeated predator; a creature which many people may have never seen before in real life. This fascination with medical science is not a new one as animals have been stuffed, mounted and preserved since we had the technology to do so in order to examine them. This has also been used for the purposes of decoration. However the idea of exhibiting dead animals as an art piece puts the display into a new context all together. In the audience's life time of medical advances in technology and the ability to extend lives significantly, it almost alludes to the idea that life is ongoing and even though the shark is dead, it still seems as if it is being kept alive artificially. This would make sense with the title of the piece 'the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living' as the viewer cannot detach what they see from the memory of a live shark. The blue tint also adds to the life-like quality as it resembles the shark's natural sea life environment.
The significance of displaying such a powerful creature, which has now been reduced to merely an object to stare at, reflects a modern society in which celebrities are exhibited like the shark, powerless to stop onlookers and judgements. Again, this idea reflects on the title in the sense that even after a celebrity is dead, many can still stare at their image which makes it impossible for them to fade from existence. 
Hirst's animal Installation work is well known amongst the contemporary art world, but also among the larger public who may not have a great knowledge of art, but may have seen it in the media due to its controversial nature, as some may believe it to be morally wrong and distasteful. The most publicised work is most well known and therefore, will be more likely to seem original. Similar concepts produced by lesser known artists are then no longer original, even if they thought of the idea first. Although, it can never be proven that someone thought of an idea first. There are over 6 billion people on the planet, so it must be virtually impossible to think something that nobody has ever thought of before, but a piece of art work can still be original to those who do not know any better. We should not strive to be original, but aim to be different instead.

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