Thursday, May 31, 2007

Originality

People get their knickers in a twist all the time complaining about this or that person ripping off their designs. I was browsing Etsy and came across this little bit of wishful thinking: "I have designed my jewelry specifically to be unlike anything else out there. Please respect my wishes to keep my jewelry looking original & fresh by not copying my designs." I call it wishful thinking for two reasons: the obvious one is that someone intent on copying her design isn't going to be put off by her wishes. But it's also pretty naive to think that your designs really are unlike anything else in the marketplace. Truth is, there's very little that hasn't been done before, in any domain, and with thousands of people making and selling jewelry on-line, you're bound to find things that look similar to one another. (Speaking of the number of people making and selling jewelry these days, this piece from the Onion is priceless: 80% of U.S. Populace Now Selling Handmade Jewelry.)

No doubt there are people on Etsy and elsewhere who willfully and unscrupulously look at what's selling, reproduce it as closely as possible, and sell it at a lower price - but I think that a lot of the complaints people make about copying don't fall into that category. There are basic techniques that everyone making a certain type of jewelry uses and those techniques will result in a fair amount of similarity in designs. There are simple, classic motifs that recur, not just in the jewelry on Etsy and in brick-and-mortar stores, but over long periods of history. We're all subject to the influence of fashion to some degree, so suddenly we'll find ourselves really wanting to make something out of labradorite because it looks new and exciting. Next thing you know, loads of labradorite jewelry everywhere.

More importantly, all art, including jewelry-making, is a conversation with the art that has come before. If you think you aren't inspired by the work of other artists, then you are either walking around not looking at art or you are fooling yourself. Yes, you say, but inspiration isn't copying. True enough. Picasso said, "Bad artists copy. Good artists steal." What I think he meant is that a good artist takes someone else's idea, image, or technique and absorbs it totally, making it their own. That sounds like inspiration to me. (When I posted this quote in an Etsy forum a few months ago the response was, and I quote, "Yuck.")

Saying "I try to be original" feels odd - I suppose I do, but it's not what I think about when I'm working. My focus when I'm working is to be in the moment with the materials as I pursue an elusive image. Where does the image come from? Usually I have no idea. Could it have come from some other person's piece of jewelry? Certainly - just as it might have come from a picture in a newspaper, a texture on a tree branch, a painting, or something someone said.

All that being said, there are some artists on Etsy whose work looks remarkably fresh to me. One is nanopod, a Canadian artist who makes beautifully crafted jewelry in bizarrely organic forms. The ring to the right is one of my favorite pieces - she calls it the Perelandrain Ring II. The other artist, LostandBound, is more mysterious. S/he just joined Etsy in early May and there's no info in the profile. The jewelry is amazing though -- sculptures really. I'm particularly fond of The Vogue, a choker that looks like it's made out of a railroad spike. Their materials, techniques, and styles are obviously quite different, but they're both quirky and a little strange. As you can tell from my weird organic things, I like strange.

That's really all I have to say about originality. No doubt it's all been said before.

1 comment:

D.C. said...

Once again, a wonderfully thought provoking blog post. You are my blog idol. I quite agree with what you are saying. Are there really any completely original designs left?