A guest post by Mallory Whitfield.
The idea of copycat creativity is one that pops up a lot in the DIY and handmade community.
Artists accuse other artists of stealing their ideas and remaking or selling them. Or worse yet, big companies with lots of money and big legal teams rip off the little guys, who find themselves in a position hard to defend from.
There are plenty of instances where artists legitimately HAVE copied from other artists, but sometimes I think accusations get thrown around when they really shouldn’t.
Here’s the thing: we’re all human, so our brains pretty much work in a similar fashion. (You know, unless you’re Charlie Sheen and happen to possess tiger blood and Adonis DNA.) Some people are naturally going to come up with similar ideas to what someone else has already done. Sometimes they might knowingly take inspiration from someone else, and yes, sometimes they might even purposefully rip off another artist or designer.
But unless you grew up in a cave and were never exposed to history or popular culture, I’d be hard pressed to believe that you’ve never come up with an idea that you thought was totally original, but that was actually subconsciously inspired by someone else’s idea first.
It happens all of the time in fashion – there are direct knockoffs of luxury items sold on street corners all over the world, but there are also trends that come back again and again, every few decade or so.
One of my favorite examples that I like to point out whenever this discussion comes up is one that was brought to my attention during my summers in theatre internships. Almost nothing Shakespeare ever wrote was totally original, plot-wise. But yet he is still possibly the most revered writer in all of history. His plot devices are not what we remember him for, and they are not what made a huge impact on the English language.
What was remarkable about Shakespeare is the WAY he crafted words.
The same can also be said for one of the most influential musical groups in history – The Beatles drew inspiration from all sorts of sources, but we remember them for the way they wove those inspirations together into new music.
About a month or so ago, inspiration came to me almost literally in a dream. Waking up one morning, I was struck with an idea for what I wanted my Mardi Gras costume to be. (Here in New Orleans, it’s just not Mardi Gras without a good costume!) I woke up thinking about a dress covered in stuffed animals. I went to the computer that morning, and tried searching for costumes and clothing made from stuffed animal parts. I was thinking, surely people have done this before, why can’t I find it? Maybe it’s just because I couldn’t think of a more specific way to type it into Google, and the thousands of results that came up were all irrelevant, but I really did have trouble finding anything like what I had in mind. So I decided to go for it, because even if someone HAD done it before, I knew it would be a fun costume to make and wear.
Later, as I started dropping hints about what I was doing on my Facebook page and to people I knew, others thought they knew the inspiration behind my costume, even though none were my intention. Someone referenced Lady Gaga and the episode of Glee where Rachel’s two dads make her a dress out of Beanie Babies to wear for their Lady Gaga rendition. On Mardi Gras day, multiple people thought my costume was a tribute to artist Mike Kelley, who is known for his work with stuffed animals. None of this was on my mind when I started, but to me it just goes to show that there are only so many possibilities for what we as humans are going to dream up.
Even if you THINK you have something truly original, chances are, someone, somewhere, sometime has already done or thought of it.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t still plenty of intentional copycats out there, because there are. But next time you’re ready to call someone out as a copycat, just remember:
you may be a unique and special snowflake, but all snowflakes are made from the same ingredients, so chances are you might not be quite as special as you think.
Mallory Whitfield is a proud resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, where she runs a blog and online shop, both called Miss Malaprop and both dedicated to the very best in handmade and eco-friendly goods. She also designs recycled clothing, accessories, and costumes, including the now infamous FEMA blue tarp dress.