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About Works Done, Redone, and overdone

A redo may be constructed by the person who created the original work or by a friend, competitor, colleague, or complete stranger—virtually anyone, including, sometimes, groups or committees. The kind of people who produce redos range from artists to scholars to engineers. Their artistic status and skill levels vary from professional to amateur to lay and from genius to drudge. They may be contemporaries of the original creator of the work they emulate or they may be children of a later generation, even another era.

Artistically speaking, a redo may rank second (or a poor second) to its original; or its rank may equal or greatly exceed that of the original. It may fill the same or another niche. It may be equal to or exceed the original its own, different way. It may round out, fill out, or extend the original (like a tale of Arthur) or it may take after the original in name only (like a movie version of a tale of Arthur). In some respects, a redo may even be partly original in its own right, a work placed on a pedestal apart from the work it emulates.

Redos in the arts proliferate. Why? It's human nature to think that an artist can "get it better" the second time, no matter how worthy or unworthy of emulation the original work may be. Some original works seem to be favored (and fated) for reconstruction; they are redone over and over, sometimes to bring them up to date and sometimes to rescue them from oblivion.

Reasons that prompt people to produce redos abound. Some are laudable, such as a re-rendering or re-telling of an original opera, drama, myth, or tale in ballet format; some reprehensible, such as the bowdlerization of Shakespeare. A black-and-white film may be redone merely to repackage it in color for a new audience.

It's not uncommon for an author to redo his own original work and thereby try to outdo himself; he feels he can get it better and it turns out that he's right. Sometimes the author of an original work believes he can get it better and it turns out that he's wrong. Some authors will redo their original work simply to be able to present it in a new venue or to earn addition fees.

Why do redos succeed?

Nothing succeeds like success. What is success in art?

Success depends on one's definition of success. In most circles, artistic success is primarily measured by popular and critical acclaim.

Success can come to a work of art for many reasons, some that are inherent in a work's artistic quality, some that are accidental and circumstantial. Lasting works—works that stand the test of time because they are good art—succeed in the long run because of the quality of their art. Works that succeed only because of accidental and circumstantial reasons, such as those that receive public or critical acclaim merely because they are in vogue, usually succeed for a while and then flop, never to reappear.

Yet even a great work of art may slide into oblivion; even great art can fall victim to shifts in public interest or critical vogues. The factors that determine a work of art's ultimate success are a complex, combination of many factors. Success can sometimes be a fickle creature.

One thing is certain: the factors that determine the success or failure of redos are the same as those that determine the success or failure of original works:

  • Successful or unsuccessful originals can spawn successful or unsuccessful redos.
  • Originals that are great (or poor) works of art can spawn redos that are great (or poor) works of art.
  • Successful or unsuccessful originals can be produced by artistic geniuses or hacks.
  • Successful or unsuccessful redos can be produced by artistic geniuses or hacks.

 why do redos fail?

Most redos flop. Depending on one's point of view, a redo may be a dastardly or an heroic attempt; and the act of reworking may be justified or wasteful. Everything depends on how the redo turns out.

Who would undertake such a risky business? You might be surprised; some of the best and brightest have done so, often with admirable success, often with dismal failure.

As with redos that succeed, redos that fail can flop for any number of reasons. For example:

  • The artist who originated the work that's redone tread in new soil and therefore often "owns the turf." The artist who creates a redo of the original doesn't stand much of a chance to succeed because his audience measures him by another standard.
  • The work that's redone is brilliant and the artist who redoes it couldn't hope to match him but dares anyway.
  • The artist who redoes the work transcribes it for a different ear or an alien medium that's inherently wrong for it. For example, a Shakespeare play recast in street modern language may gain a hippie audience but is likely to lose its grandeur. A work written for harpsichord or organ is not likely to thrive when it's transcribed for piano or harmonica.
  • A redo can be an experiment that misfired.
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