Let's Get It Started
March 29, 2016

Needing A Safe Space for Originality

The doors Lorenzo Ghiberti created for the Baptistery of Florence are no longer there.

Since 1424, at least one set of doors by Ghiberti greeted both the devout and the day-trippers who came by the thousands to see creations that profoundly changed Italy and eventually the world. The second of the two sets Ghiberti crafted were so astonishing that another Master, Michelangelo, would call them “Gates of Paradise.” The name stuck.

Now you will have to go to a museum in Florence to see the doors, where they will be protected from the ravages of the environment. Skillfully engineered replicas stand where Ghiberti’s doors once greeted those who came to visit them. The artists behind the replicas have done something amazing and deserve praise for their precision in copying Ghiberti’s work, but I can’t get past the fact that they are copies – designed to placate instead of elevate or illuminate.

Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, one of two sets of doors Ghiberti designed for the Florence Baptistery. Both sets of doors have been removed and replaced by duplicates (courtesy of Susan J. Demas)

Today, we are carpet bombed with copycats and retreads. It is a byproduct of a culture obsessed with accumulating data, then using what it learns about existing products to create “new” products. In filling the marketplace with replicas, re-creations, and remakes, we’ve overcrowded the space where new ideas would take root and thrive.

That’s not to say creativity is dead – far from it. There is something amazing going up on YouTube every day, but can you find it sandwiched between the 10,000 cat videos?

But there are increasingly fewer incubators for originality and more demand for duplication. For a Newsweek story, author Kevin Maney interviewed several music industry experts who said streaming favors formulas at the expense of originality. Maney argues that data would not have forecast the success of true originals like Sly Stone, Nirvana, and David Bowie. As consumers stream music, they are no longer as inclined or able to find unique, breakthrough sounds. They instead find music that is just a slight variation from the song they were listening to last week.

I do not mean to argue that we should ‘throw away the audience research, focus groups, and analytics.’ Instead, let’s try to find a showcase for new, breakout, and revolutionary art. Companies and entrepreneurs might find an opportunity in creating a space for something the data could never predict – a place where creative people, products, and concepts set the curve.

Make no mistake – streaming is a good thing. Streaming is a great way to compile a collection of the music we’ve loved, but is it making it harder to expand our musical diversity?

Some people and products have been able to take advantage of consumers’ hunger for anything original. Consider the excitement that people feel for:

  • Those weird and strange Old Spice ads, with a message that seems to be: ‘our products may still smell like the stuff your dad used 30 years ago, but this crazy ad shows you we’re not afraid to be different.’
  • The campaigns for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, which have timely messages, but also unique and original ways to deliver their messages.
  • Google, Apple, and Facebook – companies we continue to cast as iconoclasts, even though their founders moved out of the garages and dorm rooms more than a decade ago. These companies still give off an anti-establishment vibe, even though they now worry about their stock’s price just as much as companies that are decades older. But we can’t let go of our view of these corporations as ‘forever young’; perhaps because – borrowing from recent retread Fox Mulder – we “want to believe.”

Ghiberti’s doors were viral sensations before you could send a picture around the world in a millisecond. He shared his creativity with others who would move millions with their artistic works – including Donatello, who was an assistant on the Gates of Paradise. Ghiberti’s art altered the course of a sculptor and rival, Filippo Brunelleschi.

The importance of Renaissance works has endured decades, centuries, generations – not just because of their beauty, but also because of their impact. The sensibilities of this period re-set the standards for beauty, creativity, and culture. Imagine what could happen today if we made a place where original works could thrive and develop? Or, perhaps we should consider how much we lose if there is no place where the works of true creators will be welcome?

Read More