(Originally posted on the Ink Jerkers blog on 1 September 2018.)
You know how people say, "nothing is original anymore" as if it was a tragedy?
Here's the dirty secret of creativity: nothing was original in the past either. Go all the way back to cave paintings, they depicted antelope hunts. Art was always about life. Allegory was a tool to enable free discussion of difficult subjects. The fantastic was how people tried to explain reality.
Wait, you're going to say. What about abstract art? What about escapism?
Abstraction also starts from reality, by definition. You have to have something to abstract in the first place. And escapism is a reaction to reality. If the latter wasn't too hard to endure sometimes, there would be nothing to escape from. Nothing to react to. Therefore, no escapism either.
Of course, once created, art too becomes part of reality: one more thing to make sense of. Deconstructions, retellings, fan fiction, all have their place. The problem begins when people want to create, but their life experience is largely vicarious. They know art, but not the things it was about in the first place. And that's how you end up with pastiches of reimaginings of adaptations of...
Now you know why so much art in the modern world rings hollow. Even if it wasn't ultra-commercialized in the first place, polished to death and made palatable to as large an audience as possible. Which is to say, nobody at all.
Hence that uncomfortable feeling you get when reading yet another sci-fi story that gets basic facts wrong, and I mean about society, not science. Or yet another story about high school students pulled into a hidden world of magical battles. Hey, kid. What have you been doing on vacation? Just homework? How come your characters can't seem to find adventure on a trip into the mountains for a change? Or for that matter a magical world based on the myths of your own country?
Ya'know, as opposed to a mythical Japan that was never real and you don't know much about either. Not enough to portray it respectfully.
Not that I blame the kids, mind you. I blame their parents. People my age, or a little older, who grew up playing Dungeons&Dragons in basements, and saw their little counterculture grow into the world's biggest industry. So they got jobs writing for D&D, and never had to leave those basements anymore.
Well, lately they see how empty their bubble is, and instead of trying to break free (which can be hard, mind you), or at least to push their kids out, they fall back onto cynicism as a substitute for wit: a mistake learned in turn from their parents who, like mine, were taught to believe academic prowess was the highest virtue... only to be smacked down hard for trying to follow that very ideal. Which is a whole other story.
Whenever you feel uninspired in your own creative work, well, yeah. Muses were always a metaphor. Inspiration is out there.