Building on Something Built
Have you ever eaten pumpkin pie from scratch? I was talking to someone this week who's grandma makes pumpkin pies from actual pumpkins! Can you imagine going from an orange gourd to a delicious pie? My hat is off to the person who figured that one out. Consider that most pumpkin pies are not made from scratch. Many a "home made pie" is actually not home made. At some level we use goods that were processed by someone else. What would it take to make a home made item? Does it require the production of home made flower, sugar and butter? Most of what we make is built upon the buildings of others. Chances are that your work is not original; it is iterative. Let that one sink in for all of your creatives out there. I am telling you that you are not that creative. It hurts, I know, but I am talking about you. Don't worry. Your creative cred is still there but your claim to originality may have taken a blow.
Nothing starts from zero. There is always a source of inspiration or insight. Every piece of art, wether it be in painting, dance, music or architecture, is inspired by something else. This is not a bad thing; it is a truth. Look at this house. I have never seen anything like it: it is original and creative. But what is it? It is a stack of common houses built upon each other. It is an iterative design on the common house. We all build on the work of others.
What does it mean to build on the works of others? It does not make you unoriginal or uncreative. It is an honest admission that we are deeply impacted by the world that we live in. If you want to make creative works then you must surround yourself with interesting and beautiful things. You must view things from uncommon perspectives. You are going to be impacted by the world that you live in; so place yourself in an interesting world.
There is a spectrum of art that ranges from the source (nature) down to the latest synthetic. The remix of a remix can inspire you just as a trip to the wilderness. Vary the sources of inspiration in your life. Picking up flea market paintings can be as important as your latest trip to a national park. Be ok with the idea of iteration and predominant inspiration. Your work will be better when you honestly assess where your ideas come from.