Monday, May 14, 2012

on Being Original

When you make something, is it important to you that it be a creative act?  In today's sense I mean, do you hope it is unique, original, creative?  

In a way nearly every quilt or potholder or handmade baby dress is one-of-a-kind.  Usually even when following a pattern, you choose your own fabrics and often take a few liberties with the pattern itself.  I value pattern-following, especially when I'm learning new techniques. But, there's something really different that happens when you start from scratch.  When an idea kind of hits you and you sketch out that quilt or let your scraps lead you in an improvisational dance.  It's charming.  It's delightful.  It feels really good.

on being creative...

But is it "scratch" really, that you started with?  None of us are blank slates.  Particularly in today's connected interwebs, our eyes have feasted on images too countless to mentally catalog.  If I create something, I may not even remember that I've seen something quite similar before.  And even if I do remember seeing something similar, since mine is different, where is the line between imitating and creating?

On the subject of being original, I've wanted to share a quote with you for awhile. Jacques-Louis David, a French painter circa 1700's said, "In the arts the way in which an idea is rendered, and the manner in which it is expressed, is much more important than the idea itself."  I think that old ideas rendered uniquely are really the only kind of "new" ideas that exist.

Being original is taking those ideas you've gathered and transforming them into something meaningful and unique to you.  I've been marinating on this and today read a line in Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit that struck a chord:

"The tricky part... is that you can't stop with one idea.  Henry James said that genius is the act of perceiving similarity among disparate things.  In the empty room you're trying to connect the dots, linking A to B to C maybe to come up with H....You cannot stop with one idea.  You don't really have a workable idea until you combine two ideas (pg 103)." 

Twyla's words got me thinking of the Modern Medallion quilt.  I can recall the development of that big idea, which began with this quilt by Carrie Strine.

Oh corner squares you kill me with your sweetness

Her quilt, in turn, was inspired by this quilt-along.  And the quilt-along?  Based on a heritage of traditional medallion quilts.  At first I wanted to make a quilt just like Carrie's, but in time I realized I'd be happier to make it my own.  A river of inspiration..

by Zakka Inspired
by Georgia Gray
by Sometimes Crafter

by the Small Forest


...merged and tumbled and truly transformed itself into a new quilt that I do claim my own.

this corner

Yes, I do claim it as my own, but I also recognize that I do not create in a vacuum.  I don't ever plan to either.  I enjoy recognizing threads of the fiber arts community sewn into my work.  And, in turn, I'll enjoy seeing my influences emerge in yours.

And if I am so fortunate as to see one of my little ideas transformed and combined with other ideas into something fabulous that you make all your own, and if in that moment of recognition I also find myself totally enamored with your creation, I should humbly acknowledge that the idea I donated is not nearly as important as "the way in which an idea is rendered, and the manner in which it is expressed."  

Modern Medallion class quilt

In other words, we should all own our originals.

37 comments:

  1. I love how that quilt turned out! I wasn't quite sure about the colors and everything going on but it really came together perfectly. All the different components makes it really special.

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  2. I totally agree with your thought process. Every new flower comes from a seed.

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  3. I have often wondered if any of my ideas are 'original enough'. Sometimes I feel guilty getting inspired by you guys because it seems like you have a never ending flow if amazingly original ideas. It makes me much more confident in my ideas after seeing your inspiration process. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'm glad it had that effect, Megan! You have every reason to be confident.

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  4. You know Rachel I'm going to be a little bit hypocritcal with my comment as you know I'm someone who strives to be original...trying to be 100% original is hard work, give me a block with instructions please!!
    We all have our own originality when choosing fabrics, which is why I love patchwork, it's the closest thing to making your own fabric!

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    1. And I agree that choosing fabrics itself puts a signature on everything you make. I love that too!

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  5. I love this post-- it really resonated with me! I think about this a lot, because so many times my ideas are a riff on someone elses idea, but made my own. And I see the same patterns and ideas repeated and translated in projects all the time. I love the photos and links you included in this post-- they are taking me off in other creative directions, and at the same time I can totally see how your handstitched quilt grew out of these different pieces of inspiration. Very cool!

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  6. One of the things I struggled with while taking the Curves Class was that everyone was making the same things I was making, so I didn't feel creative. Yes, the projects all looked different because of fabric choice, etc., but I longed to make my projects have my own twist on them. Sadly, some projects didn't get started because I couldn't figure out how to 'make them my own'. I felt like my projects were lost in a sea of identicals, but my friends who weren't taking the class (or visiting the Flickr account) loved the projects! I realized that I was taking the class to learn new skills, not to reinvent the project. I am looking forward to taking your next class with this new perspective. I

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    1. Sherron, I'm glad you shared your thoughts here, because I was nervous that this post when grate against those taking the class. It's absolutely not my intention to poo-poo following a pattern. Yes, we can learn so much by following someone else's process and especially when we're studying new skills it makes sense to enjoy the path laid out for us, rather than to forge our own. Glad you have taken on this perspective!

      Once we've acquired the skills we're ready to go out and make something that will really excite us!

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  7. Well said. i strive to make my quilts reflect me and rarely follow a pattern. I call this "putting heart into my quilts." It is my way of speaking and being heard.

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  8. Nice post Rachel, food for thought! I love your medallion quilt.There is so much going on, little fun things to look at, while your eye is drawn towards the center. Excellent job!!

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  9. Great quilt! I love all of the textures and colors.
    (I teach art to kids, and I try to have projects that are open enough to avoid "cookie cutter" results. I see it as "freedom within a framework"- We might be doing watercolor landscapes, but I provide a variety of source pics for inspiration, teach a variety of techniques, and then let the kids create their own works of art. I'm then inspired by THEIR work- we are all linked to each other in our creativity.

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  10. I love this post Rachel and your quilt is so beautiful! I hope your class goes well.

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  11. Ditto. I love your elaboration and your inspirational work.

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  12. You are getting me thinking again...such insightful posts lately. Have you read Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote by Jorge Luis Borges? If not, you should check it out. Tons of thoughts there about authorship and originality.

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  13. I find that I am really a "process" crafter, so I enjoy trying new patterns and skills even if they aren't original - its new to me, and that is enough! So along that vein I CANT WAIT to work on this medallion quilt in class. It is so beautiful and I love that it will showcase new-to-me skills like handquilting. I know that this will be a heirloom project in my home, even if it is not my original idea.

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  14. Another post on the matter: http://www.thatgirlthatquilt.com/2012/04/wednesday-words-on-thursday.html. Beautiful quilt, Rachel!

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  15. I have had these same thoughts with increasing frequency. I enjoyed hearing your perspective! And of course, I'm loving your Modern Medallion project!

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  16. Oh my goodness! I'm working on a medallion style quilt myself right now...it's funny when an idea pops in your head and you think "what a great idea" and then you notice you're not the only one! Yours is absolutely amazing!
    I really like your thoughts on originality. I just enjoy creating and taking inspiration I see to make something of my own. As a stay-at-home mom it's gives me the satisfaction of using my brain in a way I otherwise wouldn't.

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  17. Rachel, what a timely post. I spent the last couple of days thinking about a few projects I thought were my own idea, until I went on Pinterest and found some similar projects made by others. I kept thinking and thinking trying to figure out if it was even worth it to post them on my blog. I guess your post helped me see that even though it might be similar to something already out there, it's still my own project. Thanks.

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  18. I love nothing more than to take a pattern and then change it up. Sometimes starting from scratch, trying to create a completely original design, is very difficult (impossible) - so many styles, techniques, fabrics, colours etc. And then I start to dilly -dally. With a pattern, I'm given boundaries, but still have many other things with which to make it my own - in fact it often encourages much more creativity than being left to my own devices!

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  19. i really love this post rachel! i have had this topic on my mind a lot lately! xo i love your quilt and i hope your classes go wonderfully!

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  20. So THAT's what you've been up to with this quilt! I've had that picture of Carrie's quilt set as my background picture on my laptop for weeks now, so I almost know it like the back of my hand. I have studied it longer than I care to admit. At first, I had a sinking feeling that as much as I wanted to, I would never be able to re-create it myself. Then, as time went by, I wondered if I really wanted to? The thought of it now is almost stifling. I realize that is because I am ME and not Carrie. If I ever do make a medallion quilt, I want it to be my own. And this is what you have done, and it is so refreshing! This may sound strange, but it helps take the pressure off to see someone else make a unique medallion quilt. And it truly is, because I did not "recognize" it as you have been revealing the pictures of your progress. It is beautifully done and so very Rachel. You are inspiring.

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    1. That means so much to me! Thank-you for sharing. I truly went through the same process - wanting to duplicate hers, then feeling stifled by it and then breaking free. Here, here for embracing our own creativity!

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  21. Great post! It's nice to be inspired by an idea then go away and think how can I make that idea my own creation. I love coming up with new ideas taken from blocks or quilts I've seen floating around blog land =D

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  22. Whilst there's nothing new under the sun, I love the clunking of ideas together in your mind to produce something new and unique :o)

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  23. Great post Rachel, It is annoying that we feel so trapped into being totally original! What is that? As a teacher I believe that all ideas stem from something else and isn't that creativity itself? Isn't everything we do created from another idea that we have seen or heard. What you do with that idea then becomes your own, that then might become someone elses! Many of my teaching ideas come from something I've seen or read, that i might adapt to suit my own needs. Sewing and craft is the same. I have made many beautiful things that I am proud of because I have seen something that inspired me. I love reading your blog and others and feel very creative when I have a go at something I have seen. I am so looking forward to your class so I can learn more and be inspired to carry these skills into other projects.

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  24. Good lord this all just about gave me a heart attack. This is what I'd dream of someone feeling about anything I've made. It makes me SO excited how many people have been coming forward to say that my quilt had inspired them to make a medallion of their own, and I feel so blessed to be just as inspired by what they've made. And you're so right - Anita and the antique quilt set my mind on fire, but what's the point in duplicating?! It's all about experiencing the act of creating anyway, or we are just machines.

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  25. I don't know who said it - but there is a quote out there "There's no such thing as an original idea". I ponder that often. Inspiration generates in the mind from our interpretation of all that we view and take in and spills out as our own interpretation/version of it. Oh the buzz from being inspired and letting that dwell in our minds and souls and then turn out into our own physical manifestation of our conscious and sub-conscious.

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  26. Your posts are always so timely! This is something I have been really thinking about lately as I venture away from more pattern work, and try to create my own designs and tutorials and such. I came across this quote a while back when dealing with this for my web design.

    Picasso once said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal"

    "What did he mean by this? Every artist is influenced by what has been done before their time. If not by direct exposure, the information the artist is exposed to through other people, media, etc. influences them. We are all a product of our times and have the benefit of those who have walked similar paths we are now on.

    We all borrow because it has all been done before and we are not the originators. To merely copy is to take an existing interpretation and not run away with it. To steal an idea is to take something of value and make it yours. To make an artistic element yours you have to interpret it your way with your own approach.

    This cannot be done when you are merely copying the idea. When copying the idea you are just doing everything exactly like it was previously done. When you have done it your way you have used the element and not simply duplicated it. "

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  27. Such a thought provoking post ~ I have a lot to say on this matter, but it's way too abstract to even type down. Read a lot of the comments too ~ Rebecca and Pile O' Fabric (teehee) had great comments.
    Love your Medallion quilt, it's just beautiful! So looking forward to the class in June!

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  28. I love how this quilt, though inspired by another one, is so CLEARLY you. Taking an idea and interpreting it through your "lens" is what makes you an artist, and an original :)

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  29. Wise words. Influences from our experiences with things and people around us are woven into all that we do, whether on purpose or not. That's what connects us all to one another in the universe!

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  30. Great post! I totally agree. None of us are creating in a vacuum but that's the beauty of it. If you stay true to your style, you'll always find that balance between inspiration and originality.

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  31. Super quote! I sometimes struggle with taking in all the inspiration and then doubting myself if I take someone's idea and run with it. The rendering quote is like salve for me. Thank you.

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