Just rambling – originality vs imitation

Creativity, originality, imitation, reproduction, copyright… words that have been puzzling me lately making me think of them in a different way. This was also triggered by Elizabeth Gilberts’ TED lecture on creativity (see my earlier post, September 17)

I don’t know where the quote in today’s photograph originally came from to give the proper credits. Here you see it on a t-shirt, which I bought in the Dutch department store Hema. “Better fail in originality than succeed in imitation”…  ‘I totally agree’ was my first thought. But now I’m thinking, if failure in originality means making something that has already been made, then it comes quite close to imitation if not success in imitation. I get the feeling I’m missing something here… I suspect that what I miss is intent – the intention of the creator in all this. Can the intention of the creator change our perception and opinion about something being original or an imitation?

Another example of my ‘struggle’ with these words can be found in a couple of books I have; books I bought a long time ago, before or during my studies in the Art school, explaining different techniques and methods of painting, drawing and graphic arts. The writers of these books teach their students – the readers – to draw and paint by following the examples given in the books, by copying the drawings and paintings that the teacher/writer has created. That is the point of these books, to learn something by copying. Yet, in the very first page, one always finds the well-known copyright notice that clearly states that reproduction of any thing in any way or form is prohibited, … blah blah blah… Helloooo?!? I paid for the book! Do I have to write a letter first and then wait for written permission before I can use it? How can someone learn something by copying if he is not allowed to copy? So the times I used these books during my studies I was actually acting against the law? Wanting to teach, but still holding on to what you’ve got, afraid of being copied? What is it with this fear that somebody will ‘steal’ our ideas? And are they really ‘our’ ideas? Do we own them? Can we own them?

The other day I found myself painting a red sky in one of my paintings. I didn’t intend it to be red, it became red in the process. It’s not the first time I paint a sky red; or orange or green… This sky was bright red, but wasn’t just right yet… it had to be deep red, layered and with a texture; deep red like the color of blood, a rich saturated color, a blood-red sky. I work in layers and oil paint doesn’t dry very quickly. The third time I was working on this painting I suddenly felt the urge to listen to a cd I got four years ago, not the kind of music I listen to when I’m painting. Maybe in these four years I had listened to it twice… And now, painting (my main focus) and listening to the music (on the background) I suddenly heard the words for the first time: the singer was singing of a ‘blood-red sky’…. Now I wonder, if I had listened to the cd when I had just started my painting, would I – or anybody else – accuse me of ‘stealing’ the idea of a blood-red sky? Whose idea is it? Who gets the copyright? Is there a copyright in such a case?

I’m hopelessly rambling off I think… The truth is that I don’t know where ideas come from and therefore I can’t tell whose ideas they are, to whom they belong and who should have the copyright. I have the gut feeling that this whole copyright-idea is just a big bubble. But my rational common sense doubts it and disagrees. I know that every time I listen to music, I read a good book, I smell a perfume or freshly cooked food – every time I look at the newspaper – a picture or a text – every time I see things on the street that don’t belong there… all these things generate images in my head, ideas of things I want to paint. Everything around me triggers ideas and images. But who has the copyright then? These ideas don’t feel like they’re mine to keep and to hold… They feel more like being here to be used, changed, transformed, and then passed on. And the copyright? I don’t know… I still have to figure out what I really think about all this, these are just some loose thoughts. I do feel rather stupid though, for also using a copyright notice here. What can I say? The power of imitation or just too insecure – or smart, others might say. I’ll have to get to the bottom of this, but not now: I’m too sleepy (it’s 1.30 am here) to really think straight.

To be continued…

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3 thoughts on “Just rambling – originality vs imitation

  1. Very interesting! And I like that T-shirt for sure. Not sure what to think though. It hurts to fail at originality!!

    • thanks for leaving a message!
      I’m also not sure yet what to think about this. It’s one of the things that keep my mind busy lately. Failing at originality sucks, but on the other side, truly original things often happen when we least try to be original…

  2. Pingback: Creativity Falling From The Stars « Walter Kitty's Diary

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