Original Imitation

The topic for our blogs this week is about remixing. This is something that was always brought up multiple times the instant I became a Digital Media major. In my young and formative years before college, I was always lead to believe that people who became successful was a result of their originality and creativity. However, as I have come to understand, this is not necessarily true.

We were not that good. Source: Thomas Hajny
Source: Thomas Hajny

I picked up the guitar the summer of my sophomore year in high school. I proceeded to form a small garage band with a couple of friends from a youth group that I participated in. We would work on trying to create original songs, but we never really seemed to get anywhere. Part of it was that none of us really had a lot of experience yet as musicians, but we never really did much in the way of playing covers of songs. At the time, all of the bands in my high school were only playing covers of popular songs – typically Fall Out Boy, White Stripes, or other punk rock bands.

I always used to look down on this, but then I became a Digital Media Major. It became very clear to me early on that nothing is original, especially in music. Mathematically, there is a finite limit to how many original melodies there are. If you want to know what that number is (it is gigantic!) then check out the video at the end of the blog.

A poster I made for class. Source: Thomas Hajny
Source: Thomas Hajny

Anyways, having gotten into media, I have learned that the best way to do what we do, whether it be making a graphic, shooting a wedding, or making a video, being inspired is the first step. Ever since we were born, we have learned the best through imitation. This is how we learn how to properly act in society and how this is how we are taught throughout our entire schooling career. If I want to make a poster for upcoming event, I spend the first hour or two of the process looking at examples that other people have done before me. In fact, for a typography class I took this summer I had to make a dance poster that resembled the techno genre. I spent a lot of time studying what kind of elements people have used to illustrate this. If I had not done this, then my poster probably would not have looked like it belonged in a dance club that was playing techno music.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” There is a lot of truth to this (and not just because the Bible says so). A lot of our art has been influenced by nature, which has further influenced people across history. All of our lines and shapes and colors and compositions came from nature at one point in time. Things have gotten a little more complicated and abstract over time, but I think it can still be traceable.

Source: Startribune.com
Source: Startribune.com

However, where is the line between imitation and stealing? There is a quote, “Good artists copy; great artists steal” that can be attributed to Pablo Picasso. Additionally, T.S. Elliot once said that immature artists  imitate while mature ones steal. This seems a little confusing and contrary at first, but I think there is some truth to these quotes. Imitation and copying imply that the artist is doing nothing new – they are just taking something that already exists and selling it off as their own. By imitating, you are not adding anything new into the mix, just redoing what has already been done. On the other side, I think that when artists steal, what they are doing is they are taking a pre-existing piece of art and making it their own. This ties into what I said earlier about finding inspiration; being a “great artist” means that you take work someone else has done and add your own flair to it.

I think it is important for us all to realize that there is nothing new or original, regardless of what medium we are talking about, there is only innovation and creativity. Taking something and putting a new twist on it is what makes art beautiful to me. This is something I have learned personally through photography – my pictures will never be original, but it changes how I see the world. This new perception on something God has already created is what makes it that much more beautiful to me.

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