What is original work?
How does “inspired by” become original”?
How d’you keep your work from being derivative?
Interesting questions, and clearly on many peoples’ minds – for two reasons:
- we’ve seen a LOT of clones, let’s face it!!
- Most big shows and jurors say they are looking for “original” work.
As time goes on it seems to be harder and harder to make something that no one has seen before…to write something new, to find a problem that no one else has investigated (as many a graduate student knows!)…
But wait! Each one of us is unique, not only are our fingerprints, our irises and our ear folds unlike anyone else’s – our way of walking is very distinctive, our handwriting, our voice patterns. This is our individuality showing through.
An original work is original in two ways:
- It looks fresh and new, it gives you a different perspective on something, a new idea.
- It is very distinctive to the individual who made it.
I used to carry 6” squares of navy linen with me when travelling and needles threaded with strands of embroidery floss (white) – every one I stayed with I asked to stitch something on the square.
What shall I stitch?
What if I’ve never stitched before?
Just remember to go up and down on the same side and you’ll be all right.
At the end of the trip I looked at the squares – they were all different, not only that but they all had some characteristics of the maker. I controlled only 2 variables: the size and color of the cloth, and the color and thickness of the thread.
Their individuality came through. You can do this! Try it! Set a few constants: size of piece, amount of fabric etc…choose things you really like!
The best way to find your own original voice is by “singing”!! You won’t find it by thinking about it – even though, as you know, I’m a great lover of cogitation.
Don’t go to any workshop where the teacher is teaching a specific pattern – if you want to do something original and different from everyone else. If all around you are making the same thing, you’re in the wrong place!! (as Kipling would have said....)
How d’you recognize what is original? Set yourself a test – open any catalogue from a high quality art quilt show and find the 3 most individual and original pieces and the 3 most derivative ones. Then sit down and Analyze. Some of the things you might come up with are:
I’ve never seen this before vs. I’ve seen this 100 times.
This looks like X’s work vs this doesn’t look like any work I’ve seen.
This looks like Xs work…but no, on closer examination, the artist has done something quite different: they’ve taken X’s starting point and gone beyond.
I really like this idea, it's so intriguing and I want to see more...
Think about mystery/crime novels – I know many of us enjoy these!! Think about the ones that are the most interesting versus the ones you know to be pot boilers – i.e. written to a formula. The latter are predictable, the characters are wooden, they talk in clichés (I’m allergic to clichés!) and so on. Now, back to your art work: have you solved a problem in a predictable way? Is your sky blue, your grass green and your tree trunks brown? It’s probably be done before!! Have you taken a small unit that is very like a Big Name's unit and done all the usual things with it that the Big Name did 10 years ago? If you really like that unit – then set yourself the task of coming up with 50 more things you can do with it that the Big Name never even thought of!!
Originality comes from going beyond the predictable, coming up with a new way of looking at flowers, or puppy dogs…or babies. Remember those photographs of babies all covered in flowers that appeared a few years ago? How fresh and new they were when we first saw them?
Are they still as fresh and new?
Look at combinations ….see which things are often combined…and change it!
Maybe the good guy is the ugly one we all dislike and the baddie is the charmer!
A famous writer I once met told us he looked through the newspapers every day and collected strange little stories that he could later use as a kernel for his plots. Just a few lines of somebody's odd behaviour would set him to thinking. Keep your eyes open for strange little visual stories as you go about your daily life. How could they be expanded into an art piece?
I'm sure there is LOTS more to be said on this topic - so please do send me your thoughts.....
I'll keep on cogitating!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth