In the realm of creativity, the quest for originality often looms large, often casting doubts on the authenticity of our work. 

My creative endeavors, whether in the professional sphere of product design, UX/UI or the personal realm of photography, digital art, have always begun with a search for inspiration. Hours spent scouring the internet, flipping through books, or perusing design platforms like, photography sites like Flickr inevitably lead me to moments of inspiration that fuel my projects. 

Yet, amidst the personal satisfaction of having produced meaningful and often aesthetically pleasing work over the years, a lingering doubt persists – are my creations truly original, or am I an imposter merely borrowing from the well of others’ ideas? Where exactly then do truly original ideas come from?

That thought triggered again on a recent trip to the Vatican Museum this December when I saw the Belvedere Torso – a Greek statue from 1 BCE, that Michelangelo apparently greatly admired and served as the inspiration for many of his own paintings including the Last Judgement at the Sistine Chapel. 

Michelangelo's The Last Judgement
Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement. The figure’s torso strongly echoes the Belvedere Torso.

It was comforting to see that Michelangelo was himself inspired by others but then I wondered who inspired the creator of the Belvedere Torso to begin with? Interestingly, the Belvedere Torso is itself now thought to be a copy of an older statue from the 2 BCE! That left me once again hanging in my quest for the source of true originality.

The Imagination Muscle a book which I recently mentioned in one of my previous posts has provided me with much needed solace by helping sort through those thoughts. Through illuminating examples from the works of Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Picasso, Edison, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others, the author dismantles the myth of originality, highlighting instead the interconnectedness of creative expression across time. In his words – “Some see the imagination as purely this: the unearthing of hidden analogies; the combining of existing ideas; the revealing of hidden likenesses that were already there.”

Ultimately, I found the following line in the book truly liberating.

To place an excessive burden on originality is to crush many idea at its birth.” 

Albert Read from The Imagination Muscle

Wow – I needed that.  Between that sentence and his paraphrasing of Newton to say – “We stand irredeemably on the shoulders of the past, or on the shoulders of those around us“, I feel like a huge burden has been lifted off of my shoulders. I guess I am simply a part of an ongoing legacy of creativity that draws from the past to shape the present. 

So to fellow creatives who may have grappled with any doubts about their own originality, I say this – let’s celebrate our inspirations, honor our influences, and uninhibitedly create with authenticity!