Is There Really Nothing New Under the Sun?
By Beatriz Neves
Once upon a time there was a world where every story, movie, melody or painting was new, innovative and experimental. Unfortunately, those times are long gone.
During this pandemic, we are consuming movies, books and music all day long and realizing how much content has been created throughout history. However, the vast amount of content that already exists makes it harder for young artists to surprise and innovate in art. It’s a rough path trying to stand out in an ocean of a thousand other artists without copying other people's ideas and style.
In general, innovation in the arts depends on the way the work is done. Coming of age stories have been told all around the world, but the difference is how they are being told. It matters how something is painted, how it was written, how it was filmed, how an instrument is used, etc. Presenting a story from a different perspective, from someone who is not normally in the spotlight, could also make an old story new and fresh.
The area that seems most affected by this is music. The copyright laws protect any creative work from plagiarism. The law protects a song for fifty years and it only needs to be affixed to a physical medium to be copyrighted. Yet, there is a limited amount of melodies that can be combined to produce a song. Thanks to the advances in programming, someone could use a computer to create every permutation of notes and save them to a hard drive, which was exactly what Damien Riehl and Noah Rubian did.
In theory, they have copyrighted all melodies possible and transformed it into a public domain to decrease the numbers of copyright cases involving only the melodies. By making their hard drive a public domain, no one can claim that they own a melody. Before, anyone could sue a musician, even if they have never heard the song before. Although, that can be a trick debate since melodies are not the only thing that forms a song. The cases that are related to the lyrics, for instance, can still be questioned.
The lyrics would be harder to copy from another musician, but not the idea. In literature, writers might not copy word by word, but there are often uses of cliches in novels, short stories and poems. Tropes are used in almost every element in storytelling. A cliche is also a trope, but an overused one that most readers are already familiar with. As Luke Reid said, a teacher in the English department at Dawson, “If a cliche isn't being used well, which I think is usually the case, it feels too familiar and it might seem one-dimensional.” For the author, especially students still developing their style, it’s hard to decide which tropes not to use. Frequently, students are influenced by a well-known writer, whose work they enjoy. This causes another problem, since there is a fine line between copying someone's work and being inspired by someone.
Just like in literature, in the visual arts, the line between copying and inspiration can be tricky, especially when it comes to appropriation art. Appropriation art involves the use of another’s artist's work, normally a well-known object or image, and changing it in some way. It’s especially hard to find this line when you haven’t figured out an original style. According to David Philip Hall, an art teacher at Dawson, “We encourage students to pursue their own originality and individuality. [...] You are always going to be influenced by people and there is nothing wrong with that. Your work, especially when you are young, can develop and have a pretty clear connection to a well-known artist.” Nevertheless, art students still need to follow the college policies regarding their work, even though they have more flexibility than other students in different programs.
Music, arts and literature have been around since the beginning of times, which limits inexperienced arts students. Cinema, however, is the youngest of the arts, only 100 years old. As technology becomes more and more available, it’s easier to create films, as well as it’s to innovate in how it’s done. According to Jesse Klein, a cinema teacher at Dawson and a Canadian filmmaker, “I am telling the students to shoot their movies on their phones and 20 years ago it was a novelty to shoot a movie on a phone.”
Though it’s evident that being completely original is harder in the twenty-first century, each artist can put their personality into their work, their story and themselves. Originality is a concept that can differ depending on the person, but using an authentic voice that speaks through your work and reveals your view of the world is definitely a part of the definition. It depends on the new artists and their work to decide whether there is really nothing new under the sun.