Updated: Sep 4
So a lot to talk about. Something happened today and I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and even though I’m a little scared to talk about these things, I’m gonna do it anyway. Today, I want to talk about the collective consciousness, ideas, innovation, and originality.
Humans have been around for a few years, and in a very real way, we are beholden to all who came before us. You see, we're social beings - we interact, we learn almost everything we know from each other...Heck, let's face it - we NEED each other! Each time we come up with a new or better way to do something, we share it and it becomes part of the collective. It's a cycle that's been going on since we have existed. This is a beautiful thing about being - well beings. All the things we have and use - even language - somebody else thought of, created, used, made or made better throughout the millennia. Plus, there are a lot of people currently living on this planet and we are also connected by another astonishing invention - the internet! What I’m trying to say is this: most ideas are not necessarily new.
As Mark Twain said:
"There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
So- most things have been done. This could be a depressing thought, however, quite often we can create something that is new based on something else. This is innovation and it is considered original. At least as original as anything can be. For example, I saw a wall in the hotel (can 't remember what hotel it was though!) in Nashville where I was attending Quiltcon that had a cool design. I took a picture of it
and made a quilt based on the shapes and shadows in that design. See below.
Diamond Wall, 2018
As a maker, I'm influenced by a number of artists and types of art (mid-century modern) as well as just sometimes just seeing something randomly - like a rug or a fence - and being inspired by it. I rarely make something exactly as I saw it; I usually make changes to suit my ideas, etc. But if I know who/what inspired me, I’m super happy to give credit to the idea or the person or the artwork or whatever anyway - Why not?
Sometimes ideas come that can't be traced back to anything specific. It may or may not be a completely original idea, but it IS new to person who "gets" it. This is fine, too. It’s the way things work, and we artists have to understand it and be fine with it to a certain extent. We need not be so arrogant as to think that we alone have new and original ideas and constantly go around accusing other people of stealing them who may actually have simply come up with the same idea independently, because the fact is that we are ALL connected to and influenced by each other. Imitation is part of life and the natural world, and it’s as they say, the sincerest form of flattery. In the quilting world people tend to be beautifully generous in all ways, (such a wonderful community) and most are not too arrogant and full of ourselves, but it’s good to be self aware and check ourselves sometimes, too.
Below is an example of a piece I made a while ago (2012 or 2013, maybe?) for which I cannot name or point to any specific inspiration. I know I was quite in-to open spaces at the time, and I have always had a rather strong fascination with African fabrics, but other than that - it just appeared in my head and I credit the creative universe for it. I like it so much I made two of them, in different sizes, using different African fabrics. (Dang, looking at it makes me want to buy more African fabrics tho!)
We do, as artists and artisans, however, also need to be honest. Any art we make that we KNOW for sure is a copy of or is a derivative of someone else’s work should credit that person as the designer/inspiration. If I base a quilt on a piece of artwork I see and it can clearly be traced back to the original artwork, it's considered a derivative and credit should be given to the art/artist. If I make a pattern from it, I may have to obtain permission from that artist to do so. We can’t (okay, we can but we shouldn’t!) just go around trolling the internet and making patterns and art from stuff other people have shared. That’s simply not right. Especially not without sharing credit - and sometimes, permission and/or monetary compensation is in order as well. I think we all know this in our hearts. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that, too.
I’ve personally had a little experience with this, having had three pieces of my work ripped off by someone, who made patterns from them and sold them as her own. (And BTW, the ideas weren’t completely original, I know where they came from and if I was going to try to make patterns for them - which I was - I fully intended to credit the art from whom/where I got the ideas.) I can’t prove this person copied my ideas and don’t really need to, but it was pretty dadgum coincidental that I shared works in progress or finished pieces and a few weeks or months later the same person came out with patterns that either look exactly like mine or were pretty darn close. On three different pieces! One piece I could chalk up to the collective consciousness, but three? It frankly changed my view of this person forever. I was bummed and shocked, and felt yucky. I seriously considered not sharing my work anymore, especially if I wanted to develop it into something more.
In the end, I decided not to stop sharing because I love to look at everyone’s art and creativity and I find it so inspiring. Almost always after looking on IG or reading blogs or seeing art, I can’t wait to get back to work on my projects, and I feel connected to all the artists I follow and it makes that much more wonderful, fun and soul-filling. And I admit, I have no shortage of ideas or inspiration anyway. But still-
Because of this experience, I do hold some things back from sharing now, which makes me sad. I wanna share with my quilty friends, I just don’t want this person or anyone else using it before I can. Even though I realize it may not be a completely original idea, cuz, well, see above - it still came through me and was brought into being in its current form through me and it brings on a kind of ugly feeling that I don’t like to have to see someone else not only not taking credit for it but making money from it!
This I know for sure:(to borrow a phrase from the inimitable Oprah Winfrey) We are ALL connected through our very humanity, and when one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are all connected to the earth and sky and everything else in existence, too. This is a beautiful thing, and when we treat each other that way it makes universe (and us) smile, And nobody really OWNS anything, because we are here only temporarily. But as connected beings, we have a responsibility to each other to be respectful and honest and not use each other as a means to an end. It creates distance between us, and well - it just ain’t right!