Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” -Jim Jarmusch
Last fall I received an email from a designer who said she had been alerted to the fact that a piece of clothing I had made and posted images of on flickr was a copy of a piece she had designed. I was shocked. I did not know this person or her work. I took a look at the item she had designed and it was very similar in style and construction, although the two garments looked quite different. Hers was hand knitted, mine was sewn. I had not, of course, copied her. This just isn’t in my make-up. I told her I hadn’t copied her and apologized profusely for any misunderstanding and pain this had caused her. I’m not sure she believed me. Then I wondered what to do. This item was meant to be part of my fall collection and I had made several of them already. Ultimately I decided not to make any more. I sold the ones I had made and moved on. I think about it though from time to time. What if I had seen her piece first? Would she have been the one that had “copied” and had to pull the item?
In architecture school I was taught that criticism was about “the work”, not the designer, and this was very valuable in that it allowed the critique to be very professional. It wasn’t you, the person, who was being judged, it was the work. In the case of having your work copied, or being accused of copying someone else’s work, the discussion all of a sudden becomes personal. It’s about values and morals and people, not about the work itself.
Yesterday I received another email, this time from someone alerting me to a designer who is making something very similar to some work I did last year. I paused, thinking about my experience. With the tables now turned, what do I do? I am assuming that she isn’t aware of my work and this is just a coincidence. But do I say something, thus coming across as accusing her? I have no idea how I want to address this.
I have sketchbooks full of sketches, ideas, notes, images and inspiration clippings. My head is so full of ideas for projects, things I’d like to research and to make, so full of stuff that I wake up at night thinking about it, worrying that there just isn’t enough time for it all. I don’t want to waste time wondering whether someone copied my work. I just want to make new things and see where they will take me in my process.
In this time of the internet we are all immersed in images and ideas. It’s easy to see things, forget them and then have them come back subconsciously. It’s imperative as a designer to be authentic. To feel good about yourself and your process, to push boundaries and most of all to create beautiful, interesting and stimulating work. To take those ideas and inspiration somewhere new and amazing.