To what extent, if any, should the quality of a work of art be judged by its originality?
The answer to this question is far from obvious. Yet in the course of the century-long reign of modernism in the arts, it came to be taken for granted that to be innovative was desirable in and of itself. Despite the fact that every great artist in every medium has derived innumerable aspects of his style and technique from the example of his predecessors, the word “derivative” became one of the most commonly employed terms of abuse in the critical lexicon.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.