Of Pirates and Freshness

To me, freshness - the first of 3 pillars of artistic quality - is almost the “raison d’etre” of art. The whole idea of art is to create, even in the smallest way, an experience that did not exist in the universe before.

In the first class of my character design course, I always ask my students to design a pirate. Most of their initial designs contain a wooden leg and an eye patch, props we would all expect a pirate to have.

Next, I ask them to make a new sketch, and this time make it fresh – put something unique and unusual into the design. What I usually get are pirates wearing some bizarre props,  such as a flower in the hair or women underwear. These are not fresh ideas, of course. They are crude attempts of the smarty-pants type of originality. True freshness is something else entirely.

Unfortunately, it’s not only students who misunderstand the word “freshness”. Many artists think of freshness as a call for breaking boundaries, shuttering conventions, revolution, something completely different and strange and alien. This is how we get questionable artistic endeavors such as pictures hanging upside down, sculptures made of peacock droppings, or artists like the one I saw on a TV show, whose idea of originality was to tie himself on a rope from the ceiling, cover himself with paint, and then “draw” by repeatedly hurling his body onto the canvas. It’s ‘a pirate with women’s underwear’ all over again, only on a much grander scale, and that’s not what I mean by “fresh”.

True Freshness

What I mean by Freshness is a much more  subtle and sophisticated form of originality. It contains something personal: each of us is an original personality, with a unique life story in the history of mankind. To connect our art to this inherent personal uniqueness, is an important part of true originality.

Another aspect of real freshness can be described as “unexpected”: something a little surprising, off the beaten path, that injects some randomness into an otherwise familiar subject. This can come in the form of an interesting style, a unique detail the juices up the work, or perhaps a unique combination of ingredients.

To me, freshness – the first of three pillars of artistic quality – is almost the “raison d’etre” of art. The whole idea of art is to create, even in the smallest way, an experience that did not exist in the universe before.

An instant classic

For one of the best examples of freshness ever, take a look at the pirate Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Johnny Depp had taken the myth of the pirate, combined it with a drunken rock star, gave him a unique way of walking, a particular way of speaking – and created an instant classic. Jack Sparrow is definitely a pirate, but not in the way you would expect it – and that’s true freshness.

Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow became an instant Classic.

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