I find inspiration everywhere (link). I write it down, sketch it, or sticky note it for further consideration. Eventually the ideas that prompt me to create end up as something very different than the original idea that inspired them. But where exactly do we draw the line between being inspired by something and blatantly plagiarizing someone else’s idea?
For example, in the May/June Cloth, Paper, Scissors, artist Amy Hitchcock provides a lesson on how to make your own assemblage. I’ve been in love with shadow boxes for ages now (pretty much ever since I saw them used in Blueprint Magazine to store jewellery), and have wanted to create my own unique variation of the idea.
from an old Blueprint Magazine
So when I take the above 2 images, I feel inspired to fuse them into one. Now obviously what I create will not resemble either image. Not really. It’ll be my own variation on a theme. And the assemblage article in the Cloth Paper Scissors magazine is essentially encouraging us to learn the skill. But my question is, when does the inspiration no longer belong to the original and rather to the new creator?
I’m all for giving credit when credit is due, especially in the culture of free (see craftypod for discussion or wikipedia for general info) but I have to admit to being unsure of when credit is always due. You see, I’ve worked in education for years (wow, that’s sort of surprising to realize), specifically I’ve spent a lot of time working with students when it comes to writing, plagiarism, and sourcing, and what always comes up in my discussions with others related to these issues are the following: what is common knowledge, what about the free flow of ideas, who owns an idea anyways, the free access of information online, and educating in order for individuals to know how to give credit properly. So when it comes to these issues in craft-land, I find myself just as stumped here as I do academically. I know that it’s important to source, but when does an idea become your own?
The rules of thumb that I use for my students:
- * When in doubt: source
- * Over 3 words: quote
- * Completely not your idea, even in your own words: source
- * You’ve built on an idea: paraphrase, source original, and then elaborate your own ideas.
Based on the aforementioned criteria, then I should always be upfront about my inspirations. And perhaps honestly, there is something intrinsically interesting in learning about the process of going from someone else’s idea, to your own. Because although the internet is awash with tutorials and finished goods, we don’t tend to see the process behind how the creator got there. Maybe because this isn’t an easy process to record. There are a million little steps that lead to any one item, from words, colours, to images, and I’m bound to forget one along the way. I guess the answer is to try to do the best you can, show your inspirations, and link when possible to them, and just go from there. After all, it’s one thing to copy directly and another thing entirely to be inspired by another to create something that is your own. Thoughts?