Monday, December 1, 2008

Curse of the magpie

I steal things.

A turn of phrase, a scarf knot, a haircut, a color combination for a knitted project.

I put them together in my own way, but I'm simply a thieving, stealing, collecting magpie.

I used to feel bad about it and then a designer I worked for told me this...

"Good artists borrow, but great artists steal."

I learned the strength of visual cues and came to love the stories they could tell.

Switch gears to art-making. When it comes to art, I have very little profundity to share. I have ideas and concepts - I like to find elaborate metaphors for situations - but as for earth-shattering artistic concepts...

So when I make something, it's often variation on theme - or an outright copy.
And this troubles me.
And it troubles me that it troubles me.

In music, the variation on a theme is it's own legitimate work:
Vaughn William's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; or
Brahm's Variation on a Theme by Paganini.

Even in art, there are variations on canonical images.
The Spinario, The Annunciation or the Three Graces (second link is NSFW).

But for some reason, I have difficulty gracefully accepting compliments when I make something that is based on something else. There's this deeply seeded feeling that a copy can be made by anyone and it's only the original that has any worth.

Of course, in the process of creating this post, I see how silly that is - new ideas come from revisiting old ones. One artist posed the Graces based on something he read in a story, and that pose became the anchor of all other works that reference them.
What if a different pose was chosen?

You stand on the shoulders of those who went before - keep the strengths and find opportunities to change the elements where you can: color, medium, size.

It's a struggle for me to accept that even unoriginal is original - but in the meantime, this magpie will keep gathering beautiful, meaningful bits that together create a totally original nest.

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