There’s a crow on the beach. The color is not like the others. I think he’s albino. His head is gray but his body is white. It soon became the mascot of hikers and people walking around. People point to him and say things like “look, an albino crow” and “isn’t he cute”. The albino crow brings people closer together. He’s not too timid himself, oddly enough. As if he knows he is special, he looks at us sideways (don’t all birds look sideways) and dips the dry bread in his mouth into the water as if showing off. Or it hops close to us, not too far away. It is actually the difference that brings a smile to our faces. Other crows don’t create this feeling in people. Actually, they are the crows of that region, maybe those who pass by there every day see them many times, but this flock of noisy crows is not very popular with the people.
Being different, trying to be different is not something that people find very endearing. Maybe for children who shape-shift themselves, but when adults give the message “look how different I am from others” to others, they are often categorized as vain. Congenital abnormalities, such as dwarfism, albinism or disabilities, can even cause people in certain societies to be seen as inferior to others.
On the other hand, animals use camouflage in nature to evade rivals and enemies. This is a euphemism for being different and being selected. The chameleon, which takes on the color of its environment, is a fascinating animal, but it also protects itself and renders itself invisible. Covering up his distinguishing features protects him from his enemies.
The linguist Saussure, while analyzing language as a system of meaning, says that “language is a system of pure differences and does not contain positive terms”. So, for example, the word “tree” is not the exact equivalent of the existential meaning of this word, as evidenced by the fact that in other languages other sounds and scripts, or names, express this meaning. In English “tree” and in Latin “arbor” are used to express this meaning. The sound “tree” or its written form leads us to the meaning of that word, but in fact “tree” gains meaning in the language system based on what it is not, not what it is. There is a whole mass of words in opposition to it. When we say “tree”, we are actually saying this at the same time: not “flower”, not “grass”, not “pen”, not “cloud”, but “tree”. Meaning is made possible by the singular reservation of the name to it.
This system of differences is the basis of the system of signs that began with Saussure and goes beyond the scope of linguistics. Within culture, differentiation and recognition are also crucial for all systems other than language. A person is differentiated from others by the name given to him/her at birth, by the surname indicating his/her family, by his/her physical characteristics. Cultural differences are manifested through dress, language, dialect, etc.; differences, together with similarities, thus constitute identity. Fashion dictates to us what to wear every season, whispering to us both the differences and with whom and which influencers we can dress and look alike.
So realization is the basis of meaning, but similarity is also the essence of the whole system of meaning. When the brain sees a new object, a sound or an image, it consults the archive it has stored in its memory, the archive it has accumulated, about the level of similarity of this new thing. What he has seen and heard before guides him to compile it in his mind. In this sense, this working system of the brain is also close to the language system.
I know how difficult it is for students who are new to design education when they are asked to make a “composition that doesn’t look like anything” with certain visual tools. In the critiques of their visual and abstract works, it is very difficult for our conversations to rise above their comments such as “it looks like an insect, it looks like a kite”. Only those who can overcome these clichés can become competent in creating new forms, new compositions. Seeking the unlike seems to be the essence of innovation, but the only tool for producing the new should not be to try to produce something just for the sake of being different.
Yes, innovation is about transcending similarity. But in a way, similarity is also a human need and a human foundation. Perhaps the essence of feeling safe.
This is how art movements work. When a brand new movement, such as cubism, first emerged, it was met with a great reaction in art circles, but after a while, when it too turned into a system of imitated, clichéd images, its newness turned into producing itself through similarity. The “avant-garde”, that is, the one who takes the lead and goes ahead, the one who dares to be new, becomes the source of the imitations that follow after a while.
Tafrik, the ability to distinguish good from bad, is one of the methods of the spiritual side of this work. Imitation, the desire to emulate the good, or more precisely, the superior, is taboo in modern art, but it is a fundamental prelude to spiritual development. It is said that it is difficult to attain tahqiq, that is, truth, without taqlid. But isn’t tahqqik as the ultimate goal here also close to the search for the original in art? If what is original is the origin, that is, the starting point, and if human beings are in pursuit of their own truth, which is their starting point, it seems that the art of living is not much different from art itself as a search for the original. We are all looking for the original, whether consciously or unconsciously, either by pursuing our own truth or by being artists and trying to do something new and original. Ironically, this makes the new and the ancient the same target, two opposite concepts merging into one. There is nothing new without returning to its essence, and this is how a sincere innovation becomes “original”.
Or, in other words, if the albino crow was not exactly like a crow in its being and essence, perhaps the fact that it is albino would not attract us so much.