It was Mark Twain who said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
Original ideas do not suddenly appear in the mind of a true genius when an apple falls on their head. But, in reality, the most brilliant creations are the result of a lineage of references, repetitions and well-established representations. It was Isaac Newton himself who said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Stephanie Meyer, the Twilight saga author, claims the story in her books came to her in a dream. While the success of her books is difficult to deny there is nothing original about the tale of a human female falling for an inhuman male. It is simply a recast of old narratives found in Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phantom of the Opera, King Kong, Spiderman and Shrek. The familiar always persists. For this very reason, it is impossible to be original. Everything has a traceable past.
Salvador Dali himself, admittedly, did not try to be original with his designs, just brilliant. The artist is quoted as having said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
Creating a completely original piece of work is unachievable because design is the process of rearranging existing elements into new configurations. Styles, tropes, inspirations, popular culture, language and symbols are the materials, and it is the measure of a designer’s ability to reposition these in the most successful way for the audience that determines the effectiveness of a piece.
Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were curious and able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
Creativity requires an open and curious mind not satisfied with recycled experiences, theories, and assumptions. A mind that understands advances and innovations is born from challenging what we thought we knew at any given time and questioning what is familiar. Why and how are questions that stem from an unwillingness to stagnate and a desire to go deeper, to find out more, and come up with creative alternatives.
Alternatives made possible because someone was curious enough to experiment and to ask questions that led them in that direction. The beauty of it is that when we’re curious we’re also less afraid. We learn a new bit of information that intrigues us, so we want to know more; its an internal need that ought to be satisfied regardless of the fears of failure, rejection, the unknown or that what you know might be challenged and that you may have been wrong all along.
Curiosity is a thirst that has to be quenched, an impulse that has to be satisfied, oftentimes no matter the price; its something that even if forgotten can be creatively brought back and cultivated into something new.