Originality vs Authenticity

Over the holidays, many of my friends and family received adult colouring books as gifts. Experiencing their delight in playing with colour and design  (and near obsession!) highlighted something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately – originality vs authenticity.

Back when I was teaching creative writing the originality question ALWAYS came up – usually in the very first class. Someone would always ask,  “What if it was already done before?”

I’d answer there was an excellent chance that it HAD been done before but that it shouldn’t stop them. No one could tell their story quite like they would.

I’d point out that  “West Side Story” was based on “Romeo and Juliet” but the world would be poorer if Bernstein and Sondheim hadn’t given us their version.  This would lead to a discussion of personal experience, vision and voice.

In other words, originality probably belongs to the realm of geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci. No wonder the need to come up with something original stops so many creative wannabe’s before they even get started.

But consider this:

J.J. Abrams took heat over his blockbuster version of Star Wars from those who felt his story borrowed too much from the original movie. That criticism overlooked the fact that George Lucas modeled HIS story on the Hero’s Journey which Joseph Campbell drew from mythology.  Who really created the ‘original’ model for the story?

However, no one can deny  Abrams and Lucas expressed their authentic visions in ways that resonate with a good majority of us.

 The good news is that authentic expression is available to all of us

That’s why I love those colouring books. Authenticity can be as simple as my handThey remove the need to come up with something original so people can get right to the fun part — creative expression.

Even if everyone starts with the same book, the end result is different. The colours people choose and what they fill, embellish and highlight makes each book a highly personal experience.

While I drew the sketch to the left, the concept isn’t original to me. I saw it on Pinterest one day and thought “Hey. That’s cool. I’d like to try that.”

So I did. Just for the fun of it. I was delighted when it was complete. Tickled even. As a bonus, I learned a technique to use with some of my other Zen Doodles.

Reason enough to include some creative time in my day.

Authenticity Connects Us

Right now, I’m reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. (Actually, I’m reading it for the second time because it was so good.) In it Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the power of authenticity.

These days I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance.

I guess I’m trying to say I’d rather be originally authentic and not let the burden of trying to come up with something that’s entirely new under the sun stop me.

What do you think when you hear these two words? Share in the comments and let’s keep the conversation going!

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