Now, where have I seen that before?
March 5, 2008 11:06 AM   Subscribe

Looking to make a list of famous artists, in all media, who "started it all."

I'm making a list of brilliant artists who are so now part of the mainstream culture that when I finally read/view/hear the original, it is almost anticlimatic. For example, I recently saw an Agatha Christie play and thought, "hmm, this is nothing but a cliched mystery story. Oh, wait, she's the one who INVENTED the genre."

Other examples include:

Tolkien--"this is every fantasy story I've ever read. Oh, wait."

Picasso--"this is just an abstract, cubist painting. Oh, wait."

The Three Stooges--"these are just a bunch of guys engaging in slapstick humor, hitting each other on the head. Oh, wait." (Similar: the Marx Brothers)

Beethoven--"how come his music seems to straddle both the classical and romantic period? Oh, wait--he invented the romantic period."

And an oft-quoted one, Shakespeare--"these plays have too many cliches in them. Oh, wait."

I'm looking for any and all "oh, wait."s Thanks much.
posted by Melismata to Society & Culture (68 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.
posted by box at 11:08 AM on March 5, 2008

Metal: Black Sabbath
Thrash Metal: Metallica

If you think of games as art:

Role-playing games: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
posted by ignignokt at 11:09 AM on March 5, 2008

Yes, games are fine, pretty much anything that causes one to say, "oh, wait." Just thought of Freud as a good example--"this is just a guy promoting psychiatry, etc. ..." :)
posted by Melismata at 11:13 AM on March 5, 2008

Bret Harte -- invented a ton of Western story/movie clichés.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:18 AM on March 5, 2008

Robot Wisdom is just another link blog. Oh, wait...
posted by dersins at 11:20 AM on March 5, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock. Years ago I took my then-girlfriend to a showing of North by Northwest at the local movie theater. She had never seen it before, while I'd seen it many times (though never before in a theater). Afterwards, I asked her if she liked it, and she said "I dunno. It seemed like just one cliché after another." I explained. She said "Oh! In that case, it was great!"
posted by cerebus19 at 11:23 AM on March 5, 2008

Ingmar Bergman
posted by fire&wings at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2008

Isn't Walt Whitman usually cited as one of the first poets to popularize the use of free verse in modern Western poetry? (I don't have my Norton Anthology handy to check.)

And since beer is art (yes, it is), Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Brewing Company is often credited as one of the major players in the birth of the US micro and craft brewing movement.
posted by slogger at 11:27 AM on March 5, 2008

Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Dark Star) for dark, gritty space-is-hell. Before his movies, shiny-happy space was all sci-fi offered. Dark Star seems like a huge cliché now, though.
posted by explosion at 11:39 AM on March 5, 2008

I will try to think of some, but I am pleased that you have already thought of Beethoven...

Maybe William Gibson and cyberpunk?
posted by Zach! at 11:40 AM on March 5, 2008

I had the same experience as cerebus19 when my wife and I first watched both Casablanca and especially when we watched Citizen Kane. With Casablanca there are so many lines that are now part of our culture that it is almost crazy. With Citizen Kane there are so many film-making techniques and ideas that were new at the time, but are now cliches.
posted by bove at 11:41 AM on March 5, 2008

Oh. Also, Arnold Schoenberg and the Twelve Tone technique.
posted by Zach! at 11:48 AM on March 5, 2008

The movie Alien
posted by studentbaker at 11:48 AM on March 5, 2008

Philip K. Dick - he invented the cyberpunk future that is pretty much a staple of sci fi films these days.
posted by phil at 11:49 AM on March 5, 2008

I had the same "This is super cliche" experience watching Full Metal Jacket for the first time last year. Same thing with Rashomon a few years ago.
posted by birdie birdington at 11:53 AM on March 5, 2008

The Beatles invented pop music. You listen to their early stuff and think "Hey I have heard this a million times before." because you have heard a million people copying them.
posted by ND¢ at 11:55 AM on March 5, 2008

Jack Kirby, for western comic books. He wasn't quite the originator that he was hailed as being 30+ years ago, but it pretty much took a generation to realize that.
posted by kimota at 11:57 AM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to mention Philip Dick, but I see someone got there first. I listened to some his short stories on CD recently and kept having to remind myself that it wasn't a cliche before those stories.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:09 PM on March 5, 2008

Orson Welles. Citizen Kane changed everything.
posted by rentalkarma at 12:18 PM on March 5, 2008

Andy Warhol. "Hey, all his stuff is just boring soulless kitsch. Oh, wait."
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:23 PM on March 5, 2008

Also, for found footage and archival video montage, this figure is Bruce Conner.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:25 PM on March 5, 2008

Ahh, ND¢ beat me to The Beatles!

George Balanchine is credited with creating the aesthetic that has become our idea of cliché ballet.

John Milton originated a number of phrases that have become part of our cultural vocabulary.

Speaking of mysteries...
posted by prefpara at 12:26 PM on March 5, 2008

Tolkien borrowed heavily from the Norse sagas. Egil's saga would more appropriately be called the prototypical fantasy novel.
posted by euphorb at 12:31 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lata Mangeshkar
posted by billtron at 12:43 PM on March 5, 2008

Le Corbusier/Gropius with respect to "International Style" architecture? Then-groundbreaking, now office park crap.
posted by misterbrandt at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2008

The Beatles invented pop music. You listen to their early stuff and think "Hey I have heard this a million times before." because you have heard a million people copying them.

I think Little Richard and a few other early rockers might disagree with this statement. I think it's much more true that their middle and later period stuff was very influential, and very imitated.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:50 PM on March 5, 2008

Earl Scruggs
posted by billtron at 12:56 PM on March 5, 2008

Thomas Newman invented that percussive sound that's full of odd eastern/modified instruments that is very prevalent in film scoring today.
(See Erin Brockovitch, American Beauty, Finding Nemo, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.)

In the same vein, John Williams is more or less the godfather of epic orchestral scores for films.
(See Star Wars, Indiana Jones.)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 12:57 PM on March 5, 2008

Dick Fosbury
posted by billtron at 12:59 PM on March 5, 2008

Les Paul
posted by billtron at 12:59 PM on March 5, 2008

Juan Atkins
posted by billtron at 1:00 PM on March 5, 2008

Milton Brown and Bob Wills
posted by billtron at 1:05 PM on March 5, 2008

Will Wright basically invented the city-building game with, of course, SimCity in 1989.

While slasher movies certainly existed before Halloween, John Carpenter made slasher movies mainstream.
posted by Nelsormensch at 1:07 PM on March 5, 2008

King Tubby and Lee Scratch Perry perhaps
posted by billtron at 1:07 PM on March 5, 2008

This raises an interesting point. Several people have posted pointing out that someone “did it first” – Norse sagas before Tolkien, for example. But I read this question as being about the origination of cultural currency. Romeo and Juliet existed as a poem and as a story before Shakespeare’s play, but it was only after his play that it became a byword. It seems to me that it’s the author whose work elevates an existing story or trope to the level of cliché that ought to be credited – at least in this context.
posted by prefpara at 1:07 PM on March 5, 2008


les paul did not invent the electric guitar, george beauchamp did.
posted by phil at 1:10 PM on March 5, 2008

Nam Jun Paik
posted by billtron at 1:10 PM on March 5, 2008


les paul did not invent the electric guitar, george beauchamp did.
I stand corrected!
posted by billtron at 1:11 PM on March 5, 2008

Francesca Caccini can be considered the first celebrity, in that her stage persona and personal biography are intertwined.
posted by billtron at 1:16 PM on March 5, 2008

The Ramones. The Beatles, Chuck Berry and the like may have invented pop music, but the Ramones pretty much invented the three-chord, two-minute buzzsaw.
posted by pdb at 1:20 PM on March 5, 2008


Here's a quote from the wikipedia article on Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, who performed as Steppin Fetchit:
Perry did not invent the stereotype to which his stage name became synonymous, but Stepin Fetchit's image was used to popularize it. Many black characters in the movies were based on Stepin Fetchit, including Stymie in the classic Our Gang comedies
Is this the kind of authorship you are talking about?
posted by billtron at 1:22 PM on March 5, 2008

RTS games: Dune II
posted by qvtqht at 1:23 PM on March 5, 2008

Rex Humbard, if televangelism counts as an artform.
posted by billtron at 1:25 PM on March 5, 2008

Andrew Kuehn is credited with creating the modern movie trailer form.
posted by billtron at 1:28 PM on March 5, 2008

I'm guessing that Julia Child is the defining television chef.
posted by billtron at 1:30 PM on March 5, 2008

Prefpara, I agree that generally what I'm looking for is what set it off to become "cultural currency". However, being a lover of random information like most Mefites, I welcome as yummy icing on the cake any additional "pre-existing" information, such as the Romeo and Juliet reference. Recently read the play that "The Marriage of Figaro" was based on--great stuff! Thank you all--great answers so far, I'm tempted to mark all of them as favorites, but will do my best to show restraint.

(I remember seeing Stephin Fetchit in an early Shirley Temple movie, Stand Up and Cheer I think. And at the time thought, "this is just a cliched, stereotyped black servant character, and very exaggerated at that." Perfect example!!)
posted by Melismata at 1:33 PM on March 5, 2008

Weegee is the big name in crime paparazzi.
posted by billtron at 1:35 PM on March 5, 2008

While all of the above answers are great, in a "singular" sense,.. I get the feeling that the OP is looking more for some kind of comprehensive reference volume/list of these types of people. (whether that exists or not, in the form the OP wants, I dont know)

What kind of research have you done?... Have you googled for any of the following:
--'great inventors'
--'pioneer(s) of their field'
--'defined the genre'

I think what I would probably do is brainstorm the genres or categories you are interested in, then spend some time focused on each of those categories specifically, culling out the "legends" of those fields. It might take a while, but its not impossible.
posted by jmnugent at 1:38 PM on March 5, 2008

I would put Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, Citizen Kane, Taxi Driver) before John Williams in the film score category.
posted by wafaa at 1:38 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

In one of my previous thread comments, I mentioned the "Dictionary of Cultural Literacy" --- might be a good reference point to start.
posted by jmnugent at 1:40 PM on March 5, 2008

Maybe Carolee Schneemann can be considered the seminal radical feminist performance artist.
posted by billtron at 1:44 PM on March 5, 2008

OK, I'm done. Go do your own research you lazy bum!
posted by billtron at 1:47 PM on March 5, 2008

John Carpenter's Halloween invented the slasher movie. Some might say Psycho did so, but they're not entirely correct, IMHO, although Psycho certainly defined many of the tropes of the modern horror film. I also like tipping my hat to Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill, which - and this is a SPOILER - popularized the "one last scare but it was just a dream" cliché. I'd also say that it was one of the few movies to ever use that trope correctly, but we're getting into subjective territory here.

Brian Eno, with ambient music.

David Eggers has certainly created a minor empire of style. I'm not sure what to call the style, but his writings and curation have definitely defined something.

H. P. Lovecraft was not the first Weird writer, but he certainly is the one who made it immortal. It should also be mentioned that his universe will probably continue as a playground for horror writers for a many more years, at least.

Rocky and Bullwinkle invented the smart-alecky, self-referential, satirical animated program for young and old. The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, and so on are in its debt.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:49 PM on March 5, 2008

Oh, also, I once had a teacher tell me that Oklahoma was the first truly modern musical, where the musical numbers actually moved the plot forward.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:51 PM on March 5, 2008

Doom for FPS games. Pathways Into Darkness if you want to be more correct, but Doom is more the cliche-maker.

Keith Moon and Pete Townshend invented (as far as I know) the cliche of smashing your instrument after your show. Hendrix did the same for setting your guitar on fire.

Mark Twain is said to be the father of all American literature.

The Timecube guy may not have directly inspired all the other internet crazies, but he's certainly the first well-known exhibitor of all the cliches.
posted by echo target at 1:56 PM on March 5, 2008

Bob Fosse (this is all just horrible, horrible Broadway-style choreography, with jazz hands and all that cliche schlocky stuff that makes me hate Broadway -- oh, wait.)
posted by The World Famous at 1:59 PM on March 5, 2008

You should see who originated each of these 89 cliches of pop music. FOr example, did the Beatles really start #18, firing drummers, when they switched from Pete Best to Ringo Starr?
posted by billtron at 2:05 PM on March 5, 2008

Not exactly what you're asking for, but your question made me think of it:
- Archimedes: the original absentminded professor (and mad scientist!)
- The 1931 Frankenstein movie: the original mad scientist at an operating table with lightning

More relevant to the question: Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allen Poe

I think Jim Henson started quite a few (genres? approaches? aesthetics?) but I'm not sure how to articulate what exactly they were.
posted by trig at 2:43 PM on March 5, 2008

Wolfenstein 3D.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:04 PM on March 5, 2008

Also along film lines, in a film class in a college, a classmate flatly stated that Marlon Brando was miscast as Don Corleone in The Godfather and his performance was cliché.
posted by turbodog at 3:28 PM on March 5, 2008

Don't see photography anywhere yet. I know mostly about photojournalism, so here we go:

-W. Eugene Smith invented the photo essay: see Country Doctor.
-Henri Cartier-Bresson made popular the decisive moment: see The Decisive Moment
-Robert Frank added lyricism to photography: see The Americans (small selection of images here; many contemporary photographers cite Frank as their largest influence to take up a camera)
-Josef Koudelka's Gypsies seems like every contemporary cliche, but he's one of those "oh, wait" sort of artists.
-James Nachtwey's Inferno is probably the most recent example of making something cliched, this time with war/conflict photography. Another "oh, wait..."
-And Robert Capa is absolutely the ultimate cliche of a globetrotting war photographer, only "oh, wait" he was one of the first, definitely the best, and he was the only photographer to accompany the first wave of troops storming the beaches at Normandy
-Eugene Richards for documentary photography of contemporary poverty (inner city and rural) and drug use
-William Eggleston for color photographs of the banal; it's cliched now, but he started it with his guide. This could also be listed a major influence for all of the Wes Anderson style cinematography now, I think.
posted by msbrauer at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

James Dean - the archetypal rebel without a cause

Lenny Bruce - politically-aware comic/satirist
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:31 PM on March 5, 2008

Les Paul invented multi-track recording. On wax discs.

posted by Wolof at 10:03 PM on March 5, 2008

I went with a friend to the Van Gogh exhibit in DC some years back. She was extremely unimpressed and told me that she didn't understand what was the big deal, as there was nothing unusual about his work.
posted by happyturtle at 12:41 PM on March 6, 2008

iPod...the next hip white gadget that starts with the letter "i"...oh wait.

MTV's the Real World...what a boring, predictable reality tv drama fest...oh wait.

Starbuck's...home of the extra hot decaf venti, nonfat, splenda, stirred no foam, caramel macchiato with extra caramel and 2 pumps sugar-free vanilla. With whip...oh wait.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:14 PM on March 6, 2008

Certainly The Matrix, and more broadly some Wachowski narrative tricks. I remember watching people in Matrix Reloaded describe a complicated future plot in voiceover while we watched the different parts of the plot unfolding in the present -- a tight and interesting narrative trick when it's done clearly -- and thinking, "Huh, that's stolen from Bound.... oh wait."
posted by sparrows at 8:25 AM on March 7, 2008

i just saw Taxi Driver for the first time last night, and though to myself, "this is so Martin Scorsese." the slow motion shots, the loooong tracking shots, and that music. (wafaa mentioned Bernard Hermann upthread.)
posted by kidsleepy at 9:53 AM on March 7, 2008

My mother enjoyed Generation X by Douglas Coupland but felt the title was cliched.

Uh, that's the horse's mouth right there, Ma.
posted by raider at 7:35 AM on March 9, 2008

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