We have been making art since the time we were living in caves, so the act of artistic creation is older than civilisation itself. Regardless of whether you’re writing articles, books, poetry or painting or sculpting, you may find that, after showing your art to the public, many people will see influences in your work that you didn’t even know existed.
Unlike science, which promotes and constantly searches for new and exciting ways to make our lives easier, art for me isn’t really about inventing new ideas or setting new paradigms, but about using old ones in new contexts in order to constantly reevaluate old stories and give them new contemporary symbolical structures, so that people of today can understand them clearly and we as people never forget their importance.
Take the old Babylonian texts for example (or any other old text). Even if you are, like myself, far from a believer, consider the stories told in such texts and the messages that they convey, regardless of their factual validity.
The Babylonians, like many other civilisations, believed humans were a creation of the gods. In their creation story the goddess Tiamat (representing water and femininity) has children with the god Apsu (representing the earth and masculinity), but after these new gods grow up— cocky as youngsters are — they decide to kill their father and overtake his rule over the land.
Because of the imbalance of power that is created, Tiamat becomes enraged and soon threatens to destroy her murderous children and all life on earth. The new gods battle their raging mother for centuries to no avail and after many failed attempts at placating Tiamat, with the young gods barely standing, a new child named Marduk is born amongst them.
But Marduk was unlike any other of his brethren; he had eyes everywhere, front and back, and his words were magical, so anything he said would manifest itself into reality. So they decided to fight one last battle and sent Marduk to lead the attack against their mother Tiamat. Finally, even after she created the most vile and horrendous demons to battle them, the gods led by Marduk are able to defeat her and restored balance in the world.
Now think about all the other stories that tell us about humans or other beings that had the ability to alter reality merely by speaking. Wizards and witches like Gandalf, Merlin, Sabrina or Harry Potter all partly tell the same story of someone who could see much more than others, had more will than anyone of his or her peers, and could, because of either birthright or some earned knowledge or power, change the world for the better. Or sometimes for the worse…
I’m not saying there are no genuine narratives anymore, but we have to be mindful of how many of all the new stories we create or come in contact with are actually old (sometimes really old) tales, that have been remodelled, enriched or cleaned-up and then retold. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this! It is how creativity works for the most part — we take what we like from those who inspire us the most and we add our own ideas into the mix.
This is how the best art has been created for centuries, and how creators like J. K. Rowling, Picasso, Hildegard von Bingen and others have been able to create the masterpieces we all know and love. While art history and history in general can be a boring and stale topics indeed, the reality is, there is no greater treasure-trove of ideas than the last few thousand years of human creation.
We all probably agree it’s grand to know how to paint or how to sculpt marble, no question, but it is impossibly grander to combine that knowledge with that of thousands of other sculptors throughout the ages. That way it isn’t only our hand that is sculpting the rock, it is the amalgamation of hundreds of kindred souls, all hammering down in unison, working on something truly incredible.