It's a contentious issue for many people - plagiarism and copyright. I've been thinking about it for a few days now... and probably not in the way you might expect. I haven't had anyone plagiarise me, but I have found myself in the position of being the plagiarist (sort of!)... You see, I designed this 50s-inspired pattern with the idea of screen printing it onto fabric. I didn't copy anything, I just sat down one day and started doodling. I guess it was a million vague ideas of what 50s patterning was like that informed the choices I made when drawing it....
And then.... the other day I found these original 1950s fabric designs. I solemnly swear I had never seen them before that. As you can imagine, my heart went into my throat! I really loved my 50s design; was so proud of it and looking forward to screen printing it, but now it just feels like copied work...
(top) Marion Mahler, furnishing fabric, 1952.
(bottom) Lucienne Day, Perpetua, furnishing fabric, 1953.
... but it isn't.
And then, as if the heavens were prodding me to think more on this issue I came across this amazing quote by Jim Jarmusch (below), Nothing is Original. Now there was a provocative idea! I could see the sense in it. Yeah! It's not where you take it from, it's where you take it to!... then I heard a little voice in my mind "But I didn't take it!"... Hmm, yes well.... and I do think it matters that you take something in the first place, that is if you take it mindfully.
So, there's one issue - you may not consciously take an idea. Is it that some things are just in the collective ether? I guess it's more understandable with something vintage like the 50s fabric. Surely, it's been circulating and re-interpreted for a while now, and things do have a way of resurfacing unconsciously perhaps...? I think this is a very different issue to be inspired by something and reinterpreting it yourself, as along as you acknowledge your inspiration.
However, the heavens weren't finished with me... I then bought the latest issue of Textile magazine, and reading through found an article by Stacey Apeitos entitled Protecting Your Artwork Online. Here was a different take on a parallel issue about fears of one's work being copied. What Apeitos was saying was basically that ideas cannot be copyrighted but your artwork is your own until you sign away the copyright. She then goes on to give a lot of fabulous advice on how to better protect your copyright. You can download the PDF of the first part of the article here and/or visit the Textile magazine website here to arrange a subscription.
Anyway, I found it interesting that Apeitos decided to end her article with some quotes, one of which by Paul Gauguin was "Art is either plagiarism or revolution." So, once again I found myself back to the 'nothing is original' idea... it appears not even Jarmusch's idea is either! ;)
Front cover of the latest issue of Textile Fibre Forum (Australia) in which Stacey Apeitos' article appears.
So, where does all of this leave me...? I think the exchange of ideas is what feeds a lot of the creative process and that we all do it whether we realise it or not. I think being inspired by someone else's work and having a go at your own piece is absolutely okay, as long as you acknowledge your inspiration. But as for my spooky channeling of the ghosts of designers past... I have absolutely no idea...! ;)
Anyway, I'd really love to know if this has ever happened to you too. Have you designed something and then later seen it's already been done? Do you think it's true that there is no such thing as an original idea? I'm really interested to hear your stories or thoughts about this. Thanks :)
p.s. If you're curious about those mentioned above, you can find Stacey Apeitos' website here and she has a Felting blog here and a Web Savvy Artists blog here. Jim Jarmusch is a director and this quote came from an interview he did with Moviemaker magazine in 2004, which you can find here. You can find out more about him here.