In many ways imitation is flattery. Imitation teaches us, nurtures the methods we employ and widens our perception on the subject. Yet, if we only continue with imitation we very soon step into the realm of plagiarism. By just imitating we won’t understand the underlying elements or the reasons why those elements exist in the first place. In visual arts we all can imitate the lines and colours of the Mona Lisa and understand nothing of it. After that we are unable to do anything else but copy those lines and colours all over again, perhaps in slightly different composition but still empty inside. The same example can be drawn into anything.
The best way to learn, and thus understand, anything is to go back to the point of origin. In regards of design to understand why a chair is shaped like it is throws us back to the ergonomics of human body; how the curves go, where are the points of support and so forth. It’s almost useless to start looking for examples first, as they will without a doubt only lead into an imitation of the example. When that imitation is made into (figurative) flesh, it becomes plagiarism.
And in some cases, this plagiarism is greeted with applauses and admirations, especially from those who have no idea of the origin. It is, due to lack of any better words, ‘evil’ to abuse others’ ignorance.
There are numerous things that are more than their origins. Renaissance, for example, is not just a rebirth of arts and science, but something much larger overall. Nevertheless, understanding what the Renaissance was at its core allows us to do nothing less than what is in spirit of it. Baroque is another example, where simply understanding why Caravaggio’s paintings looked like why they were, why the lights and shadows played their game with the intricate details, we can completely understand the rest of the era and create/produce something that is nothing less than Baroque itself.
To make something that is pop art of the 50’s we only need to see where it mostly came from; comics and visual package designs, but also from various avant-garde visuals from the 20’s and 30’s . Andy Warhol was an excellent thief, who didn’t understand what he was stealing, but managed to engineer a method to plagiarize small photos into larger scale. He is an example of person who blatantly stole and never stepped forth to give credit for his works, and yet he was (and sadly still is) hailed as some sort of genius. It’s a double standard.
Youngsters are encouraged to remember names and works of the past. We all recognize Mona Lisa the second we see a glimpse of it just as we recognize the Hokusai. It has been an age tested tradition to take masters’ works and allow the new generation to admire them. Being influenced by their works is unavoidable, as we can’t choose any other way to teach a thing without examples without forcing pupils to experience them first hand, to make them into examples.
However, if we teach only the masterpieces, the body of works from a selected period and admire the masters to an extreme while encouraging them to work in imitation, then why are we judging these same people years later of stealing and abusing their inspirations? Modern English is similar in spirit, where first we teach patterns and ways to form sentences only to start cracking on children who say I’s rather than mine, eated rather than ate and so forth.
While we seem to hate see plagiarism, we also encourage it and allow ourselves to further indulge into it rather than coming up something new. Influences aside, it’s all industrialized. The line between being influenced and directly ripping off may be thin and foggy, but plagiarism is nothing less than taking someone else’s work, their ideas and sweat, and call it your own. Why is this sort of thing taught to an extent, then later on hated on outside those few selected individuals?
Perhaps it’s human nature to copy what they are influenced by. Monkey see, monkey do. But what if we were to teach the origins at first, allow the students to create images based on those origins and see what they have thought through that. This way we would have nothing less than originality based on uniform origin; the core idea. After this the examples should follow. Now that these students truly understand the core, they can appreciate and understand the works themselves.
What period of art we live in at the moment, I have asked few times from teachers across the board. It looks like nobody has an answer . Calling past modern is awkward, and we have already passed post-modernism as well. The problem with art movements and periods is that very rarely we, the people living at that time period, name our own era. During the 1900’s we have seen multitude of movements, but it’s far more likely that during the modern era of last century we have just managed to keep book of them far more efficiently as globalization took more foothold in the world. Just a small search in the Internet shows that at the moment we’ve seen more than dozen art movements within the last ten years, and none of them have become anything major. Perhaps in the future the latter part of 1900’s and early 00’s will be called the era of Electronical art movement due to the advent of computers and electronic games, and how vastly they spread into almost every household in the modern world in mere few decades. It wasn’t uncommon for houses not to have computers in the 90’s. Now, it’s completely opposite and everybody has a connection to the rest of the world.
I raise this point because at any time a name has been given to an era, this world has been modern in its own terms. At the current modern world we most likely have the exact same challenges as the past arts with plagiarism and over imitation and people struggling with similar matters. Who knows what were the original works that inspired the masters of past and how many of them were lost, much like almost all of Warhol’s inspirations?
I recently finished with the chair design I mentioned a little bit over six months ago during summer. The project was stretched a bit longer, but as February goes by I intend to completely tell you the hows and whys of such a piece of furniture exists, where the influence and inspiration lays in. It’s an original work, but I’m one hundred percent sure that a similar chair exists somewhere, or at least a very similar one. This is because it has a point of origin; a shared coda.
I would rather do products that are similar because of their idea and function rather than do similar products that mimic and imitate the appearance of another. While imitation is admiration, it gives no freedom to allow you to use it as your own.