There is nothing new in art except talent.”
This is a great after-dinner subject, isn’t it. Is there anything in art genuinely new to be produced? Or is everything simply derived in some way from one thing or another which has gone before?
The writer William Faulkner discussed this subject in 1956 in an interview for the Paris Review. As you will see, his views chime with those of Chekhov – it’s the individuality of the artist (writer in his case) generating the ‘newness’ of work which has, in essence, already been produced by everyone already.
I’ve been listening to music by two modern bands – Franz Ferndinand and The Fratellis. I have been enjoying their work, but they were, I felt, virtually indistiinguishable one from the other.
It turns out that they are bands both from Glasgow, Scotland (go fly that Saltire!), and they both produce ‘indie-punk’ music. They also have both been active, popular and successful through the 2000s. And in addition to reminding me of each other, they have also reminded me of many other bands. Keane is an obvious reference point, but heading further back in history, I can hear New Order, the Undertones, The Kinks. There are other familiarities in there too, which are on the ‘tip of my tongue’, so to speak and which I can’t quite place.
It’s clear that there are many layers of influence going on here. I’ve absolutely no problem with that. I think it makes it easier to engage with something which is new to me if there is already something familiar buried within it which hooks one in. Of course it’s good to be challenged with the unfamiliar too. But perhaps not all the time, every time?
And there’s also a different layer of ‘new’ to consider – something that is new to me may not be new at all to the next person. How often do we read a review of a new book, play, art exhibition which we thought was full of new perspectives, but which the reviewer felt was simply yet another example of many things he or she had seen before.
So back to my bands of the moment. Their music feels as if there is a ready-made hole into which they can easily fit within the musical fabric of my life. And yet they do so with freshness, wit and quality. I think they embody Chekhov’s quote rather nicely.