“Is originality in art overrated?”

For my Gold Arts Award section of forming and communicating a view I am discussing whether originality in art is overrated and can originality really exist today? Please feel free to leave comments as this will really help me with my reflection part of the essay. Enjoy!

The issue I have chosen is “Is originality in art overrated?” and in this I will be looking at different sides of the argument. Originality is crucial in art as it provides a platform in which other art forms can develop and progress therefore suggesting it isn’t overrated. Some say that originality is too glorified and its qualities are, by some, exaggerated.

One crucial point to take into consideration is what is the definition of originality? 

Originality is “the ability to think independently and creatively”.Linking this to art, originality could be paintings created by the most influential artists of all time, examples being Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet.  These could be argued as being original as they each opened a new door in art and helped to inspire the next generation. For example Monet was one of the leading Impressionist artists of the 20th Century and helped to introduce a style of painting that influenced future generations.

I chose this issue because I always read articles on ‘original’ artists and how they dominate the museums and exhibitions in the world. However, this question stuck out for me because I was perplexed about what originality could be in art. Unless you have lived on  a desert island for all of your life, you can’t not be influenced by others. This made me want to look into it further and find out what it takes for a piece of artwork to be original.

A good example is Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez. Picasso and Dali have copied this painting and put their own interpretations on it and yet for example Picasso’s looks so original as he has changed it so that it is beyond recognition. Is this artwork therefore original or is it copied?

Included now are a range of different views concerning the debate.

  • It is not possible for someone not to be influenced in the modern day as anything you want to do in life can be Googled or seen on YouTube.As Picasso said “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.
  • Art builds on prior knowledge from past artists/generations.Sherwin argues that an artist would have to have hidden away for all art to be truly original. Sherwin said  “We are all influenced by the images of others”.  Later, Sherwin suggested that we may get unique adaptations from viewing other people’s art and therefore sees it as a positive rather than a negative.
  • In most traditional art, an artist would work under the guidance of a master.  For example, Michelangelo did not paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by himself, his students would have painted most of it.  Another example is with Picasso and he was taught by his father and therefore one could argue that he was copying his father’s art as at a young age he would have used it as a springboard into his later work.
  • Some artists openly copy traditional work today but change it for their own reasons.  For example, Warhol used images of the ‘Mona Lisa’ but made it original by reproducing it in vibrant colours and bringing in a collage effect.

I have now included some articles from online to show both sides of the argument.

The first is “Is originality in art overrated?” by Martin Gayford and Richard Cork where Gayford argues against this question “We’ve come to stress originality too much.  If only innovation matters, after all, then what is the point of copies?” On the other side of the argument, Cork says “If the importance of originality is not recognised…artists lose their crucial ability to renew our vision of the world with outstanding, revelatory verve.

The next article “The Origins of Original Art: The stepping stone of originality in art” by Brian Sherwin says “Originality does not exist” because he says just how original can artwork be? 

The following article, called “Is traditional art better than modern art?” by Kathleen Grace, discusses how traditional art stays within the rules established at the time that the art was made.  However, modern art doesn’t relate to anything in particular and is, perhaps, more challenging (although this article doesn’t directly answer the question, it helps to build an understanding on the difference between traditional and modern art).

I believe that originality in art is not overrated. Originality comes many forms and guises but it still has to stem from somewhere. It may have been influenced by an artist or a particular piece of artwork but that does not mean that what the artist then creates is not original (e.g. La Meninas).

Without originality in art how would it progress?  As well as this, art always has to start somewhere and those artists who are deemed to be “original artists” are just people who introduced a certain medium or idea in a new and innovative way. What really matters is how that artist responds to the new idea and creates it in a way that is of their own interpretation.  

In response to the question about whether it is overrated, I would say that overrated is completely the wrong word to use in this context.  This is because these artists help to inspire the next generation and are therefore pioneers in their field – without them who knows what art would be today?

This is a user generated post from our Arts Award on Voice community and was not edited by the Voice team. We would love to hear your views too! Sign up for an account and make your Voice heard!


Kate S

Kate S

I am currently doing my Gold Arts Award


  • India Gibbons

    On 25 January 2019, 20:27 India Gibbons commented:

    A fantastic read. An informative insight into the meaning of originality in art. I’ve learnt several new things today! Well done Kate. X

  • sophie jacklin

    On 26 January 2019, 11:30 sophie jacklin commented:

    An amazing essay Kate! The way you’ve structured the essay and also included alternate views on the title makes an outstanding debate to read.

    Your essay has really made me think about what originality really is. As said in your essay, originality is “the ability to think independently and creatively”. I believe we need to re-think originality, stop believing that the art we produce needs to be completely new, not seen or heard of before in terms of style or technique etc. but instead, focus on producing art which stimulates original thoughts and feelings for the viewer. In my opinion, If your art has caused someone else to feel differently to anything else in this world, you’ve achieved originality.
    Therefore I agree with you, I think ‘originality’ is overrated and perhaps even inhibits people from producing great art, if we worry too much about ‘copying’ it can really block our creative outputs.

    Overall, to me, it’s the concept originality that drives great art.

    Thank you for writing such a thought-provoking essay, It’s definitely very inspiring!

  • Kudzi Garikayi

    On 27 January 2019, 19:32 Kudzi Garikayi commented:

    Really enjoyed reading this piece Kate!!
    I thought it was an interesting and well written essay covering numerous different viewpoints. A unique subject which was definitely thought provoking!

  • Emrys Green

    On 28 January 2019, 11:40 Emrys Green Voice Team commented:

    Fantastic piece Kate. Well done on a good balanced piece. Please do tell us a bit about yourself in the bio and if you have an image to represent your piece would be fantastic :)

  • Kate S

    On 30 January 2019, 19:29 Kate S commented:

    Thank you for all your comments. I will make a bio soon but don't have a picture available to put on

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