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Anyone Else Tired of The Tyranny of Novelty?

Carlsen Chris

Explorer
Don't get me wrong, I'd love it if big movie studios and such would great broken up, and most IP get punted into public domain, hopefully forcing them to hire people who want to tell stories that haven't been told much in movies or tv shows.

However, outside of that, it seems impossible to ever discuss any art/content without it turning into a discussion of how new/original/novel the work is or isn't.

Like...I am fairly well versed in how we came to this. A lot of it is IP law, and another big chunk is simply the ever-growing ability for a story to survive in a specific form by a specific person for vastly longer than has ever been the case before, and be vastly more broadly distributed in that specific form than ever before, in an ever increasing buildup of stuff we can just rewatch, reread, listen to again, etc.

And so, because we are used to all art reaching toward the greatest possible state of novelty while still saying something familiar enough to resonate, it is nearly impossible to make something that is a straightforward retelling of a classic tale without receiving pretty harsh criticism, often of a type that seems to imply that the artist is a bad person for making "derivative" art. As if the works we are comparing a work to weren't literally just as derivative, just of stuff we have less direct knowledge of as the audience.

I'm not sure if there is any real purpose here, I just get frustrated by the attitude that greater novelty is inherently better and retelling classic stories is some sort of moral failure.
no
 

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Don't get me wrong, I'd love it if big movie studios and such would great broken up, and most IP get punted into public domain, hopefully forcing them to hire people who want to tell stories that haven't been told much in movies or tv shows.

However, outside of that, it seems impossible to ever discuss any art/content without it turning into a discussion of how new/original/novel the work is or isn't.

Like...I am fairly well versed in how we came to this. A lot of it is IP law, and another big chunk is simply the ever-growing ability for a story to survive in a specific form by a specific person for vastly longer than has ever been the case before, and be vastly more broadly distributed in that specific form than ever before, in an ever increasing buildup of stuff we can just rewatch, reread, listen to again, etc.

And so, because we are used to all art reaching toward the greatest possible state of novelty while still saying something familiar enough to resonate, it is nearly impossible to make something that is a straightforward retelling of a classic tale without receiving pretty harsh criticism, often of a type that seems to imply that the artist is a bad person for making "derivative" art. As if the works we are comparing a work to weren't literally just as derivative, just of stuff we have less direct knowledge of as the audience.

I'm not sure if there is any real purpose here, I just get frustrated by the attitude that greater novelty is inherently better and retelling classic stories is some sort of moral failure.
I think a lot of it is that making art should be an act of exploration. The point is to bring something new into the world.

Consumption is a little different in that there's a component that is just related to personal enjoyment of a thing.

Like there are recipes that maybe don't ever need to change for me to continue to enjoy the dish, but the art is in the creation of the recipe in the first place more than future execution of it.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think a lot of it is that making art should be an act of exploration. The point is to bring something new into the world.

Consumption is a little different in that there's a component that is just related to personal enjoyment of a thing.

Like there are recipes that maybe don't ever need to change for me to continue to enjoy the dish, but the art is in the creation of the recipe in the first place more than future execution of it.
I knew a painter who said that the point of art is to create emotion, to change a person in some small way from their innermost self outward, and that novelty was a distant second to that.

edit: Her brother who was a sculpter and muralist argued that the point of art is for people with a knack for making engaging creative works to make a living, followed by “to make oneself or others happy by making enjoyable works”, followed by any other concern.

Artists are pretty varied and tend toward very strong opinions on art, I guess is the point.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I already have well-executed and enjoyable versions. Why do I need another?
Because it will also be well executed and enjoyable.
Because this one is... different? Novel, perhaps?
Novel? Probably not, unless we are going to define novelty so broadly that it is a useless term, in which case feel free to substitute it for unique or original.
So... Branagh's Hamlet, as far as I am concerned, suffers exactly from the issue of making a slavish version of the classic. Most versions (film or stage) have the good sense to edit it down quite a bit, but his Hamlet is unabridged. As a result his has a runtime of four tedious hours.
Our individual reviews of a given Hamlet aren’t really the point. Branagh is my favorite Hamlet, others hate it above all other popular Hamlets, still others put Gibson at the top or vehement bottom of their list. Doesn’t matter, it’s all Hamlet. None of it is novel, until you get into subversive takes on the story, or at least very divergent stories inspired by Hamlet.

Even then, those stories are certainly more derivative, less novel, than Hamlet was when it was first written.

The Sword of Shannara is blatantly an American authors response to Lord of The Rings. It is not, overall, especially novel.

Meanwhile, A Wizard of Earthsea is much less derivative.

Novelty vs variation on a theme is not what separates the two works in quality. Shannara wouldn’t be improved by the author going out of his way to make sure the tale doesn’t resemble lord of the rings.
I know this, because, back before we married, I took my wife to see it on a date. We were both big Shakespeare fans, and Branagh usually knew what he was doing. He had done reasonable editing on other productions...

When your significant other falls asleep... it is not a good date. I don't recommend it.

I haven't seen Tennant's version of the thing yet - largely because that experience put my wife off Hamlet, and I don't take many opportunities to watch things on my own. But I am willing to guess that is differs substantially from Branagh's (as, I see they lopped an entire hour off).



Let me put it another way - I have a copy of Le Morte d'Arthur. I do not, in fact, need two copies on my bookshelf. If you are going to produce a book of Arthurian fiction, that simply follows Le Morte d'Arthur... why do I need yours? I already have it!
Two things can be different without either being novel.
I have other books of Arthurian bent. They are all different takes on the legends. One's a scholarly work that breaks down the legends to fit into know historical events, with the idea to show that Arthur was not really a single individual, but an amalgam of various legends. Another casts the Arthurian characters as immortals (Arthur was known as Gilgamesh and Baldur before he hooked up with Merlin and became Arthur), and mixes them with other immortal beings to see how it plays out. Another has the characters reborn in the modern era on the road to simply repeat the same tragedy again, while desperately trying to avoid that fate. And there are others...

Same stories, with novelty. Far more engaging than just rephrasing Le Morte d'Arthur four and more times over.
To you.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If I want familiar, I already have it!

...

So... to see what is different! Thank you for demonstrating my point for me.
Yet it's still 90+% familiar - Robin and Little John are still going to fight at the river crossing, Robin's still going to sneak into town and win the archery contest, King Richard is still going to show up at the end, etc. - and thus it's no more than a re-telling of a familiar story with maybe a few new wrinkles. Yes I already have it. Yes I want it again. :)

That's a big difference from something being entirely new, which is what the OP seems to be suggesting is an overwrought ideal.
 



I knew a painter who said that the point of art is to create emotion, to change a person in some small way from their innermost self outward, and that novelty was a distant second to that.

edit: Her brother who was a sculpter and muralist argued that the point of art is for people with a knack for making engaging creative works to make a living, followed by “to make oneself or others happy by making enjoyable works”, followed by any other concern.

Artists are pretty varied and tend toward very strong opinions on art, I guess is the point.
No matter why the artist is doing it, what the artist is doing is making something which did not exist before.

In order to get there, they have to explore. That exploration can be about technique, content, concepts, emotion, etc. And then to realize it, the work needs to be executed effectively

I think there's some amount of give and take between exploration and execution, in that deficits on one side can be offset by strengths in the other.. but there should be at least some of both.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I am always attracted to novelties but in a subjective way. If I haven't seen a movie, heard a song or read a book before, it is novelty for me even if it was made 100 years ago. That's why I spend vastly more time digging into dusty public libraries for books and music than in shops with big "NEW!" signs in the window.

Generally speaking I hate movie remakes, with occasional exceptions. I'd rather watch the original with a couple of flaws than a "perfect" remake. But on the other hand certain movies based on a famous book or theater play don't bother me in multiple versions, it can feel to me like none is the original and they are all adaptations from another medium, which remains the untouched original. I don't mind if they make another Alice in Wonderland adaptation on screen, but certainly I would object to someone wanting to rewrite the book (not counting translations, comics or children's simplified versions).

I do see merit in derivative art however, the difficulty might be in distinguishing between genuine artistic reason and being a rip-off to gain money or notoriety easily. Thinking about a famous case of Aqua's "Barbie Girl" song in the 90s, if I remember right the band was sued by Mattel. It is obvious that a pop band wants to make money selling their song, but the Barbie is such a worldwide famous toy that had become even part of the language, so IMO it was completely legitimate (and novel!) to use it in a song even without permission.
Yeah, and I want to distinguish between two ideas, jumping off from your comment.

Personal novelty, which is simply “have I personally seen this before?”

Critical novelty, which is “does this contain significant elements and forms that would surprise a critic who is knowledgeable in the genre and medium of the work?”

Personal novelty can have quite an impact on enjoyment for some people. Critical novelty, i posit, only really matters to critics.
Yet it's still 90+% familiar - Robin and Little John are still going to fight at the river crossing, Robin's still going to sneak into town and win the archery contest, King Richard is still going to show up at the end, etc. - and thus it's no more than a re-telling of a familiar story with maybe a few new wrinkles. Yes I already have it. Yes I want it again. :)

That's a big difference from something being entirely new, which is what the OP seems to be suggesting is an overwrought ideal.
Exactly. I don’t think that how novel/original/unique something is makes a particularly useful measure of how good it is, and I think that culturally there is vastly too great a focus on that supposed metric of quality.
And that's perfectly fine. The fact that some people can like it, and others find it tedious, shows that doing it different ways matters.
IMO that is tangential to the idea of novelty as necessary to quality. Again, “has literally any new or different element compared to the works it derives from” isn’t, IMO, at all useful as a definition. If we use that, then novelty becomes so inevitable that the term is entirely redundant, and anything but a perfect copy fits, and then we have to use a different term to mean what nearly everyone means when talking about novelty or a novel experience.

Another way to look at it is, if basically everything that isn’t a direct and complete copy is, to some degree, novel, then novelty isn’t an especially important or even reliable determiner of quality or of how creative or “good” a work is.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Remakes of works that have already been made are at their best when there's something novel about them.
For me, it depends. A faithful remake of something might have very little new about it, yet still be enjoyable. I see this most often in the realm of music.

When someone covers a song, there two basic paths: faithful homage or bring something new to it. I have noticed that some performers cannot actually do the former convincingly, while others can make you wonder what they changed. If the piece is challenging in some way, it is a demonstration of proficiency and skill.

Meanwhile, sometimes a new take on an old classic is just…BAD. Like…what were they thinking bad.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Meanwhile, sometimes a new take on an old classic is just…BAD. Like…what were they thinking bad.
Sure, but I'll give credit for trying to do a new take, even if it is bad. Something that's too close, as a recording, just makes me wonder "Why take the effort and use up the studio time?" I think there's room for being a great cover band - Van Halen is an excellent example. Some of their best work is covering other people like the Kinks or Roy Orbison. But their covers are generally pretty different from the originals.
But Tori Amos covering "Smells like Teen Spirit" or Bad Wolves covering "Zombie" or the Hindu Love Gods doing "Raspberry Beret" - those are sublime and really different.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Sure, but I'll give credit for trying to do a new take, even if it is bad. Something that's too close, as a recording, just makes me wonder "Why take the effort and use up the studio time?" I think there's room for being a great cover band - Van Halen is an excellent example. Some of their best work is covering other people like the Kinks or Roy Orbison. But their covers are generally pretty different from the originals.
But Tori Amos covering "Smells like Teen Spirit" or Bad Wolves covering "Zombie" or the Hindu Love Gods doing "Raspberry Beret" - those are sublime and really different.
Satriani’s cover of “Sleepwalk” is a very subtle one. Why do it? I suspect to silence critics claiming all he could do is shred.
 

Campbell

Legend
Here's my personal take:

Anytime you use words like tyranny to describe other people's preferences and stated aesthetic principles you have already messed up. We are all free and responsible to form our own aesthetic principles. Someone else's enjoyment of a thing or aesthetic principle they hold dear should not affect what we choose to value.

If someone else values novelty? Good. If someone else values tradition? Also good. That's not for us to decide and should not affect our own well formed aesthetic principles. Criticism does have some value in that it can help us refine our tastes or consider the merits of something in regards to the things other values, but we should never feel entitled to have others share our values. We can try to convince them of the merit of those values, but it is up to each of us to make those choices for ourselves.

My personal stance on this issue is that I value both solid execution of traditional forms, but also see value in pushing boundaries even if it's not always pretty. It's a balancing act though. Novelty comes with certain risks. I admire the risk taking, but also understand that it does not always work. I also admire the craftsmanship involved in doing something extremely well even if it has been done 1000 times before.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Anytime you use words like tyranny to describe other people's preferences and stated aesthetic principles you have already messed up.
Anytime you take a pithy and obviously hyperbolic thread title totally seriously, you have already messed up. 🤷‍♂️

Ever heard of the idea of “the tyranny of fun”?
 

Reynard

Legend
What are you talking about? Everyone knows that you can only get REAL Frozen Prepackaged Microwave-ready Yellow Mustard Dishes from Big Mustard, Inc.
It's actually the Tyranny of the Official, where people complain there isn't enough kinds of mustard only because they refuse to acknowledge mustard made by independent mustard purveyors.
 



doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Some people want to eat only American yellow mustard all their lives. Other people want to try every kind of mustard produced on the planet. I don't understand why some people are bothered by what kind of mustard other people put in their dishes.
I don’t think anyone is. What we are talking about here is the phenomenon wherein people will act like something is bad simply because it isn’t super-original.
 

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