Day 116: Creativity and Originality in Design

As a Creative, how important is “originality” in your work? Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery, or just evidence that the maker lacks “originality”? What makes a work “original”? Is it possible to take someone else’s idea in a different direction, and still call it “original”? Why do many Creatives struggle with the idea of “originality”?

I read a blog post today by my friend, Megan of The Bitchy Stitcher, about “how do you know if a quilting pattern you create is original”. I have been struggling with this same idea for a long, long time. Only recently have I come to the conclusion that if I, as a Creative, develop an idea or design on my own, without having seen it done before, I can call it “my own”. Invariably, someone, somewhere will have developed a similar idea or design, perhaps even the same week, or same day, as mine. It doesn’t diminish my version of the idea at all, just makes it all the more interesting that someone else should receive the same inspiration as me. Anyway, no two (similar, but independent) designs are ever rendered in exactly the same way, so perhaps I should just go ahead and make the design my way. And maybe even post my own instructions for it.

Take quilting, for example. How many combinations of squares, rectangles and triangles can there really be? How many variations on a 9-patch or 4-patch can you come up with? Instead of saying, “Hey! That was MY idea!” why not say, “Hey, I had that same idea! Cool! We should talk!” Why do Creatives think it’s all a big contest? How much more could we create by working with other Creatives?

Yes, I have been discouraged to discover that something I thought up “has already been done”. Why did I allow myself to think any idea of mine was worth less than someone else’s (similar) idea? Was I afraid of being sued, or being ridiculed for “stealing” someone else’s idea? Maybe. Why was I afraid? Maybe it was because I was in the habit of putting down my own work and ideas, saying to myself “Why bother? It’s not good enough. It’s not original enough.” Well, I have since decided that my ideas and work are “good enough”, and I’m actively creating art every day now. I don’t care if anyone else thinks it’s good (but I’m always tickled when I get nice comments about my work). Validation from others is always gratifying, but validation from within is more than enough for me now.

I saw some instructions somewhere on the Internet a few years ago for a “bum bag”, which was basically a shoulder bag made from the seat of a pair of jeans (crotch to waist). The woman who posted the instructions was adamant that this was HER design, and she had copyrighted or trademarked the term “bum bag” and nobody else could make and sell these bags with that name. Now, I remember back in the 60s and 70s people carrying these same shoulder bags made from jeans. You could buy the instructions in magazines or books, and you could even sell them, if you could find someone who wanted to buy one (lots of people made their own back then). My point is, this woman did not invent these bags. What made her think she “owned” the design?

This reminds me of the current brouhaha over the Etsy seller making and selling “Jayne” hats (like the ones worn by the character named Jayne Cobb in the short-lived TV series “Firefly”). Fox is trying to get the maker to stop making and selling the hats, claiming copyright infringement (never mind that Fox cancelled the show 10 years ago). Actually, the hats are similar to hats that have been worn in South America for decades (centuries?) by the indigenous people, and have since become popular headgear for hip young people all over the world, including fans of the TV show.

I know a guy who makes and sells incredible costume pieces, to include corsets and steampunk gear. He is not worried about copycat artists because he says that it keeps him on his toes, never sticking to one design for long. He is always looking for new and interesting concepts to make. Perhaps that is the mindset we, as Creatives, need to cultivate more in our minds, work and lives. Competition should make us work harder to come up with new and interesting ideas, not just keep making the same designs over and over again while trying to maintain tight control over our product.

Which is why I am working hard at creating something new every day for this blog. Most days, the work is visual art, usually something put together in PhotoShop, but sometimes involving other software, like ScopeWorks. But some days, like today, I write something that I think needs to be said and heard, something that I hope teaches other Creatives about things I have learned. Hopefully, this helps someone else on the Creative path.

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