Thursday, December 27, 2012


I swear not within a week of writing about 'knowledge' and 'intelligence' being two different things, I got a facebook request to use 'goodreads' (I declined, being able to only imagine a few things worse) from a friend whom upon next seeing me asked me if I read 'sci-fi' which I do, or have but chose then to make it known to him that I don't really read. He responded, quite flatteringly with 'but you seem so intelligent' and tempted though I was to then verbally reiterate the difference between knowledge and intelligence, I didn't because in my job conversation is fleeting.

But yesterday I saw the Hobbit, having only learned the day before that somehow a book that takes less than 9 hours to read had been made into a trilogy. And as much as I applaud Peter Jackson for cutting a whole heap of bullshit out of the lord of the rings, I have to condemn him for adding a whole heap of bullshit into the Hobbit.

It's probably the worst film I have seen all year. Unforgivebly so, and the strangest thing is, I hate it most on behalf of the people that really love it that are being exploited by the disrespect of the producers.

But it reminded me of the existence of Tolkein, and subsequently another curious pairing of words that often are equivocated or confused like knowledge and intelligence are.

they are 'creativity' and 'originality'. And Tolkein is a fine example. He is a fine example because he is a shitty writer. But he is by most accounts the originator of the fantasy. He along with C.S. Lewis (a much better writer) basically kicked off what now fills vast sections of book stores.

Tolkein created a world, a language, peoples and cultures that do not exist and walked parties twice through these incredibly original and incredibly complex worlds giving the viewer a narrative experience of something vast and rich and unseen before.

Sure there was Lilith, and going further back you get into the tradition of fairy tales and folklore, The Arabian Nights, the Brothers Grimm, the Bible and other religious creation myths. But Tolkein basically created the first completely original world populated by races with original languages and cultures.

And he was the worst writer for the job. This is merely my opinion, but Tolkein lacked descriptive power, he had no precedents to follow, so the travellogues of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings are quite monotone, drab etc. They are boring compared to what followed.

Lothlorien for example has been spectacularly rendered by artistic fans of the books for decades coming up to centuries and brought to life on the big screen in Peter Jackson's adaptation - but Tolkein imparted upon it all the majesty of 'a big tree what people live in.'

For all the originality of his concepts, he was simply unable due to his lack of skill as a writer to convey it in words.

Which isn't to say that while Tolkein was 'original' he was not 'creative'. It is to say that the two words are not synonyms/synonymous, whatever.

The burden on the word 'creative' I feel plagues and hampers so many young and fledgling artists.

I am aware I dount have the authority nor influence to go about redefining words, I can only share my insight with the goodwill and presumption that you the reader may find it helpful:

Creativity occurs with the act of creation. It need not be original. Creativity pertains to the process of creating something, anything. Originality refers to a lack of/or conceptual distance from precedent.

I will concede that talking about 'creativity' and applying it to a shop worker pressing aluminium into camping cuttlery is a conversation nobody is interested in. Creativity as it pertains to the arts is what I am interested in and I presume what you are interested in too.

That said, creativity and originality often correlate strongly (as does knowledge and intelligence), it's just that thinking you can't be creative unless you are original places a huge unneccessary burdon on the creative.

If you study your heroes, chances are somewhere somewhen they committed to documentation their influences, and upon familiarising yourself with their influences you will discover that their celebrated works, celebrated for their originality are in part - derivative.

In my experience that is pretty common, more common yet, you find highly original creative people who started off being cheap imitations of other artists. In the field of comics, most of the big name artists started off through tracing and imitating the big name artists of their day, only to develop their own distinctive style down the track. George Orwell in 'Why I Write' discusses his start in writing as a clear plagurism of William Blake's 'The Tiger'. He was a child, and thus had not intellectualised an unhealthy need to be completely original.

And that is why the distinction is important. And Tolkein illustrates it so beautifully. Because it is tempting to say all those comic artists who started off as wannabe Kirbys, or wannabe Jim Lee's etc. didn't really hit the bigtime until they started being original.

There's a number of reasons such thinking is fallacious, but the only one that is truly relevant is this - craftsmanship - they learn their craft through imitation, all the transferrable skills that have nothing to do with original style. Tolkein was highly original and was lucky, because he hadn't learned much craftsmanship when it came to writing. His literrary descendents Robert Jordan and George RR Martin and everyone in between shit all over the grandaddy of fantasy when it comes to composing prose.

Comic artists learn page layout, composition, perspective... all the transferable skills to any style before their own unique style creeps up on them. The one that labor over uniqueness and originality sometimes succeed but more often I suspect develop styles that are simply non-functional for the purpose of sequential comic art.

I think if you want to be creative, you have to first and foremost create. And get better, more effecient and more competent at creating. You need to relegate 'originality' to the 'nice to have' pile, but not make it a necessity. I think this because I see a lot of the 'imitators' being the only ones that last long enough to do anything truly original. I think this because I've learned to not throw out an idea simply because I've realised where it came from.

I'm not advocating plagurism, I'm advocating derivation. We progress by taking what came before and doing what we can with it. If every scientist got caught up in needing to do shit a-priori and not get up to speed with the existing body of knowledge we would still be living on the plains of the sub-sahara, instead of writing blog content that can be read by somebody on the plains of the sub-sahara.

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