The Origins of Originality

A few weeks ago I took a day “off” to attend a photography workshop. It was billed as a “day of inspiration” and I looked forward to refueling my think tank after a busy season of wedding work.

Much of the discussion centered on our need to be “original” in our vision and our work. The speaker emphasized time and time again that our work matters only to the degree to which it is original. To make his point, he shared the websites of several artists around the world who are successfully chasing after new ideas—and the subsequent recognition and/or jobs they received from their efforts .

But originality has a short shelf-life. It only takes the next guy to build on your idea for the “original” idea to be left as old and forgotten. In today’s social-media world, this creating and building upon can happen in 15 minute cycles. If the value of our work comes merely from it’s level of originality, than our work suffers from a short shelf-life as well. 

So, rather than leaving the workshop inspired to “be more original”, I left discouraged by the enormous amount of attention originality attracts; the high commodity that originality has become in a culture that is always going after something newer and better. It is impossible to keep up.

I’m now reminded of how the goal of This Beautiful Life is anything but original. The core task—learning how to grow, preserve, and cook and share food—is a task that has been central to man’s existence since our beginning. While new technology has certainly changed the way we farm (sometimes for the best, many times for the worse), farming is never about being original. It’s about submitting to the history of the earth and its ability to produce harvest after harvest after harvest. Farming is about letting go of our need to be original—to do things in a way never before done—and agreeing to work in tandem with nature’s course. And most of all, farming forces us to recognize that no matter how much we “do”, how much “originates” from our labor, it is ultimately God who creates.

What’s more, I like knowing that God does not validate me by my ability to come up with next big idea but rather, He is the crazy idea. His Truth is the origin from which all originality results.

And with Him, my value never expires.