Does Originality exist in 2016?

Inspiration is a funny thing. The fact we look to others to unearth the things we just can’t seem to reach ourselves. As creators we are always told to look to others, to build off their ideas and use them to help us create our own. To me this has always seemed slightly odd. Why are we constantly being told to imitate and copy, to work off other peoples ideas instead of exploring our own?


A memory that springs to mind when a New Zealand Author came to speak to my English Literature lecture at Auckland University. She told us that the secret to her success was not the fact that she was a great creative thinker, but instead, a great creative borrower. She emphasised her ability to pick and choose from the real life experiences she, and others she met, and had encountered. She takes ideas from films, novels, wacky conversations or strange sentences that stir something inside her, and turns that into her own creation. Now I’m not suggesting that she completely ripped off these ideas or that she was incapable in making her own, but merely the fact that inspiration and imitation was a big part of her own creative process.

This seems to bring up the ongoing argument of originality. In this day and age you don’t need to look far to see the latest reboot of a classic film, or someone being sued over their song sounding suspiciously like another.  This is causing many people to ask the question is it still possible to be original in 2016? To me that answer is yes. For, it is not necessarily the idea itself that needs to be original, but the way you approach it, that makes it truly unique and that’s where inspiration comes in,

In thinking about this I thought it would be interesting to have a look at my own life, and see who inspires me on a daily basis. I wanted to see who has inspired the people I look up to and try to find a thread between their work and the work of the people they admire? Is there some sort of domino effect of ideas or inspiration that has been threaded throughout time, thus proving that we haven’t had an original idea in decades?


I chose to research Ryan O’Neal, a musician I greatly admire and who is credited for starting one of my favourite bands ‘Sleeping at Last’. He has mainly written a lot of music for film and television, which is something I am very interested in. However the project that drew me to him is his ‘Atlas Series’, number of EPs all about the creation of the world; Darkness, Light, Land, Oceans, and Space 1& 2. It was an idea unlike one I had heard before and I remember the profound effect some of lyrics and orchestration throughout the project had on me the first time I heard it. Surely I couldn’t find anyone else who had down what he had?

With this in mind it was interesting delving through the limited interviews online,seeing if i could find a spark on inspiration form another artist, something that he has drawn on the create his unique approach to music. The results I found were interesting and different to what iI expected to find.  One of the biggest I found was his love of movie and tv scores from when he was little, partially the background music used to create mood and atmosphere in scenes. I believe this is why his work often has a very cinematic vibe to it and is very good at articulating a mood or emotion so deeply.

I was also able to see a possible link between his own work and that of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ where he articulates nature throughout the different seasons as well as peoples experiences throughout them. This is similar the the format O’Neal is exploring with his Atlas series, as he too is articulating elements of nature within his music through the use of Instrumental features and stories through his lyrics. So does this mean that this idea is completely unoriginal? I don’t believe so. Each has such a different end result that you can see that perhaps there has been inspiration, but also creativity on O’Neal’s part. This raises the argument that creativity and inspiration are intertwined. That inspiration is not copying, but taking your own approach to an idea that that sparks that creativity inside you.

When I began to delve deeper I found that he was particularly influenced by the artists he was surrounded with when as he was growing up such as Radiohead, Sunny Day Real Estate, Bjork, Nick Drake, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Billy Corgan, even stating that these are still his ‘go-to artists’ today. Now this I found particularly interesting, as these artists have completely different styles of music from one another, let along O’Neal himself.  It is hard to draw a connection between such distinct and different artists, however there is a loose thread that connects them all together. What he took away from these artists was not the genre or style of the music, but the way they chose to tell their stories and messages. In particular you can see this with Billy Corgan, the leader of the Smashing Pumpkins who also had a focus on atmosphere and instrumental sections in his music, particularly in the song ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ He has been said to  write “confessional lyrics, grandiose production values, and virtuosic musical interplay.” He is also known to draw upon his own life for lyrics and songs which is a big part of O’Neals music too, writing what is true and important to him.

Another name that popped up was Dan Dyke Parks, an American composer, arranger , singer, producer and songwriter from the 60s. What was interesting about him was that he too had a very classic sound, much like O’Neal, and had a very classical music upbringing. He would listen to Gershwin and sang in many operas. Most notably however was his interest in old American Music, mainly the sounds from the Tim Pan Alley and music made during the depression. Tim Pan Alley began in 1885 but is mainly associated with the Depression in the 1930s. It consisted of a group of writers working in New York city to produce the bulk of the songs sang by musicians at the time. The music is known for its distinctive ‘piano sound’ with often many playing at once, as well as distinctive instrumental that today we associate with war and depression music. Again there is another link between an older style of music and O’Neal’s work. It seems as though the reason he sounds unlike anything else being made today is because he is drawing on much older ideas and techniques that have been around for decades.

Now because we can trace elements of his music back to the 20s and 30s does that mean that his music is now completely unoriginal? Is he too just recycling old tactics and techniques picked up by the people he is inspired by? No, I don’t believe this is the case at all. As a society we believe that one true creativity and originality are the ideas that have never been done before. That inspiration is essentially taking and choosing from things that have stood alone for being original. However you can see when looking back that everything draws on something else and nothing is completely ‘original’. Sure we may draw on other peoples works but it is not the ideas that show true originality, but the way we approach the ideas and create new ones from them. This is where the true source of creativity and originality lies.

A example that springs to my mind is in my Interpreting Media class. We all shoot a film together in a group and have to individually go away and edit them ourselves. When you see the final image each film is slightly different. Sure we are all using the same content and storyline, but the way we choose to edit shows our individual creativity, our vision and inspiration we got from that footage. Everyones will have a slightly different tone, emphases certain characters over others, and tell the story in its own unique way.

This proves that yes, in 2016 we are using and drawing on a lot of ideas that have been seen again and again throughout time. We can trace elements of whats been made today back to older examples and traditions. However that does not mean that there is no more originality in the world, as each persons approach to something what makes the content original, proving that inspiration and originality are intertwined. As long as there are people interpreting and creating media around ideas they find interesting, we will always have originality.



dabei34 (2016, November 1) Sleeping at last- Sun (Video File). Retrieved from

innotectoday (2016). Lightbulbs. Retrieved from

invisible children (2016). Ryan O’Neal. Retrieved from

musicnotesblog (2014) Q &A with Composer, Innovator and Modern Musical Renaissance Man, Sleeping At Last. Retrieved from

Pretentious Hipster ( 2014) Artist Interview Sleeping At Last. Retrieved from

Qualityhill Playhouse (2016). Tin Pan Alley. Retrieved from

Relevant (2014) Q&A Sleeping at Last. Retrieved from

Sleeping At Last (2016, November 1) Saturn- Offical Music Video (Video File). Retrieved from

TheFenymanparticle (2016, November 1) Vivaldi- Spring (Video File) Retrieved from

Willard, T (2014) Sleeping at Last// An Interview with Ryan O’Neal. Retrieved from


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