Monday, August 6, 2012

Is Anything Really "New" or Truly "Ours?

Another conversation with a friend has sparked my interest and inspired this blog post.   My friend commented about the hand stitching on a piece of mine she saw on exhibit. I chose the stitch pattern intentionally to represent the meaning behind the cloth. My friend didn't have that background information and her initial reaction was " I use those type of marks in my work all the time.  I wonder if Lisa copied me?"

Hearing that, I struggled to recall any pieces of hers that had those type of marks.Was I subconsciously inspired by her stitching or did my mind come up with it on my own?  Hard to say. So many factors influence us - we don't always know where that inspiration comes from.

On a number of occasions, I have incorporated some element or technique into my work, and felt that it was "mine" - unique to me.  Then I see a similar element or technique in the work of another.  The person didn't know me, and was unlikely influenced by me.  I didn't know them, so my work wasn't influenced by theirs.  We just happened to come up with something similar.

This also brings the question - when can we claim something to be "ours" ?  Many people use similar imagery in their work, yet the work may be very different. I have used a lot of labyrinth imagery.  So does that mean others who use it are copying me?  Perhaps, if they see my work and consciously decide to use it.  But most likely, the imagery speaks to them.  They aren't copying me, they are tapping into a universal symbol.

I suppose a lot of this is about ego - the need to feel that something is "mine".  Instead of recognizing that we are all connected and we are all tapping into the same source of inspiration, we have to claim ownership.

Have you experienced this? I'd love to hear your stories.


  1. Elizabeth Zimmerman (the well-known knitting author) had a great term, "un-vented", for things she discovered that had undoubtedly been discovered before, but which she hadn't personally encountered. I like it because it simultaneously acknowledges that the technique is likely not unique to you, but that you have "rediscovered" it on your own.

    I think that, while there is very little new under the sun in terms of individual components, the way you select and integrate the components can be original to you. Also, "original" is a spectrum rather than a yes or a no; if you change the colors and some of the materials in a published pattern, is it original to you or not? I would say both yes and no. There is a huge gray zone between "definitely original to me" and "copied from someone else's work". Much if not most work falls in between.

    1. Great term - un-vented.

      Great points. We all bring something unique to our work. In representational work, two people who paint the same scenery will paint it differently. In abstract work, two people who use similar imagery will bring their own sense of color, design and composition - their own style.

  2. HI Lisa.. I feel there are several approaches... There seems to be the artists who are learning from others to "copy" their work. They want the students to produce like pieces and basically duplicate what the teacher has done. This is certainly nothing new.. It happened with the masters of as well. Then there are the artists who so admire and learn many different styles and technques to only use what they have learned as a jumping off point to create their own work. (I Like to think, I strive to be in this category) I love the comment about "un-vented" I know recently I started to do some hand stitching on my pieces.. I have never done hand stitching on my art pieces before. To me there is not a "new" stitch to be created. To me its how the artist interprets it into their own work to make it their voice. Something I know we all struggle with at some point and time.

  3. Which leads me to my point.  I never consciously copy a damn thing, and several months ago, “came up with” a technique that I though was uniquely mine, only to receive a comment saying that they had “The Kemshalls do the same thing”. That’s one blog I DON’T follow, but I *still* wasn’t safe.

    Years ago, I made an art quilt that was received very well by my followers and on Flickr. It was only my second art quilt but I still think it was one of the best I’ve ever made from a graphic point of view. About 10 days later, a *very* well known art quilter that I followed showed a piece she had made that was, in terms of the graphic image (if not the techniques used to produce it) *exactly* like mine. It was the same proportion, the same colour scheme, even the individual elements were in the same places in the piece.

    I spent days being really angry about it, months feeling “betrayed” that this well-known artist would copy me and not even acknowledge where her “inspiration” came from, especially since she “knew” that with her hundreds of followers and my then less than 50, the question of who copied whom would be no-contest.

    After all this time, I still don’t know whether she copied me or whether it was a Hegelian coincidence; but a couple of years ago, I had the same experience about a quilt, with another well-known quilter and I was equally infuriated. (I felt validated however, when I was contacted by a gallery recently who asked if they could exhibit that piece in a show called “Innovation in Modern Quilting” this fall, however!)

    I’ve also had other newbie and intermediate quilters/art quilters deliberately copy my work and then proudly send me the link! What I have learned from that experience is that even if they faithfully copy my work, it somehow never looks the same.

    So, what does all that mean? I start where I began! Lol I don’t think there’s anything new. Most of us, I believe, try to make the work our own – but since we’re all working from the same, basic techniques, we’re all going to end up doing something similar at one point or another!

  4. Jeez - my comment was longer than your post! lol (Sorry!)


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