May 19, 2011
In praise of cliche
In a post about writing for an RPG called "The Battle for Wesnoth," Eric Raymond describes how modern definitions of "creativity" often send art off the rails.
We're all so marinated in the 20th-century idea that good art is required to challenge one's preconceptions and be original that it is perhaps difficult to receive this sort of deliberately derivative work as art at all. But it's worth remembering that standalone art intended primarily to express the artist's personal creativity is a very recent idea, not actually fully developed until the collapse of aristocratic patronage at the end of the 19th century and the "back to zero" impulse of modernism in the early 20th.
In most cultures at most times, quotation and bricolage have been as important to artists, or far more important, than individual creativity. Art was tied to and primarily generated for non-artistic purposes--as an evocative device for religions, as decoration for craft objects and architecture, as a peacock-tail display tactic for the wealthy and powerful. Individual creativity was restrained, additive, and incremental . . . too much originality would have separated art from its purposes and alienated its audience.
Or as Terry Pratchett puts it, "The reason that cliches become cliches is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication."
Playing by the rules
In praise of caricatures