It’s A Steal! (Or, Creativity Through ‘Copying’)

One of the most popular adages people cling to for reassurance is “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Depending on one’s perspective, this could be true – or it could be uncanny, or simply downright terrifying. But discussions of the uncanny and the horrific are not the point.

Imitation, however sincere and flattering, can also be limiting, especially in the creative sense. Sure, it takes some creativity to imitate – trying to be someone else isn’t exactly a walk in the park – but the very idea of imitation entails one thing: making something until you reach the level of that which you are imitating. In short, no growth, no transcendence, no full use of potential.

One could argue that imitation isn’t limiting though, by posing the idea that imitation is all anyone can do. “Originality is dead” is something people could use to justify the derivative feel of whatever they’ve made. I agree that a lot of things today are essentially derivatives of things before, and this is considering the monumental list of intellectual backlog stored in thousands and thousands of years of history and of past cultures and civilizations. It’s also probably confusing, because people’s creative energies are spurred by the very things that they are inspired by. Fanfiction is a manifestation of this.

I’m getting a little off tangent here, I think. Let’s see. Imitation is limiting, but it doesn’t have to be, if one is able to transcend the imitation and add whatever he or she has to it. The idea is to build up on an idea, compound it, not create something that’s a carbon copy of it. (Carbon copy is pushing it, I think, because that’s functional plagiarism, but the idea is there, hopefully). Instead of making something identical – to, say, a piece of literature, for example – inject a bit of yourself into the work, or take pieces off of other things. Mix and match, find whichever fits the general framework of what you need. Or, instead of imitating, create something that is the polar opposite of what has been made.

I’ve been speaking in vague terms so far, but I do have a few examples:

  • Poet Dante Alighieri, famous for his Divine Comedy. The idea of the Divine Comedy is essentially a man’s guide to get closer to God, or be virtuous, or something along those lines. What Dante did, however, was not take the Bible – basically the holy text of Christianity – and build his Comedy by following the Bible’s depictions of Heaven and Hell. What he did was create his own spaces and own structure for Heaven and Hell, and add his own Purgatory to it. Dante gets incredibly creative with his punishments in Inferno (for a good sampling, see the punishments on the Flatterers, the Seers, the Sodomites, and the Suicides). He creates spaces for different kinds of virtuous people in Dante did not lift directly out of the Bible, but instead crafted his own spaces while still keeping virtuousness in mind.
  • Neil Gaiman, though he’s not the only one who does fairy tale retellings. “Snow, Glass, and Apples” is a rather morbid but darkly satisfying retelling of Snow White. The Sleeper and the Spindle, a new release (illustrated by Chris Riddell) is also a retelling-slash-mashup of both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White (I haven’t read it yet, personally, so I’m only relying on the wonderful Internet summaries and commentary for this). In fact, fairy tale retellings are retellings of retellings, though with a new spin.

Finally, a few words. I agree that originality is dead (and this is probably going against the first ideas that Sasa presents in the previous post – sorry, Sasa!) but only to a certain extent. The execution always counts. If you manage to spin something new out of something old, or tackle it through a new viewpoint or from a new angle, then why not, right? What counts, of course, is how imaginative you can be. Just think of Dante and his contrapasso in the Inferno, and you hopefully get inspired by that.

A Few Things:

I kept mentioning Dante, and briefly mentioned the contrapasso. If you’re interested in finding out what it is, go here.

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How To Stay Popular in the Creativity World


It’s hard to become popular in the world of creativity these days, let alone maintain that status. You would think that just because you can be original, you can earn the respect of your fellow artists. No matter how creative and original your works are, they always have to go through the eyes of critics. But what is originality? It seems to be a word that is almost always linked to creativity. Except, creativity can exist without one being original, whereas artists who produce original pieces are always creative. Meaning to say, if you can be a brand of your own, it shouldn’t be hard for you to become well-known.


What is hindering you from a breakthrough?


Nothing we create is truly original. I have read an article back in 2010. It was by Janis Zroback. I read it again today to get a refresher on the point she was trying to make. She claims that denying the influences that surround us is only embracing and displaying ignorance of the human condition. She also said that every artist is linked in some way to an artist from the past. And I agree. An individual’s creativity is influenced by the forms of art that he or she was exposed to and grew up on. Janis calls originality a spectre, because like a spectre, one could question just out of philosophy if it truly does exist. Though, she closed her article by saying that this is far from being  a problem, because what is important is the individual approach of artists and the manner in which we release our experiences and influences upon a canvas or in words.


If originality is not so much of a factor, how then can we become popular and stay that way in the creativity world?


  1. The number one rule is to always break the rules. Art has no standards. When you carefully examine your work all the time so that you won’t mess up, you end up putting a limit to your creativity. When we were younger, we were taught that we must color within the lines. Sure, the work comes out clean, but it looks the same with all our classmates’. Whose work does the teacher notice? Of course it’s the kid’s, who shaded the picture from all directions and didn’t color within the lines. In literature, one rebel I absolutely admire is Lewis Carroll. One of his most popular works is Jabberwocky, a poem full of words that he just came up with because for him, no existing word can truly describe what he is trying to say. He didn’t mind what others might think or that no one would understand his work, but look where it got him. Many of his terms are now added on modern dictionaries.


  1. Always look on the brighter side of things. A bit of optimism goes a long way. Just because you didn’t get the honor you know you deserve right away, doesn’t mean it will never happen. Good things always take time. If you think patience has nothing to do with popularity just because most of those who are famous are so by mere chance, you’re wrong. Everyone has an equal shot at something, and they who persevere deserve the attention. Consider these things; even diamonds go through a rough stage and; before pearls are made, the oyster goes through a lot of pain.


  1. Treat your craft as you would a significant other. Personify your skills. And what is the best foundation for a good relationship? Trust. You will not always achieve perfection in your creations, but believe that practice makes it possible. It does. You can even learn from nature on this matter. The shark for example, is thought to be a mindless hunter. But if you study its behavior, you will find that it actually goes through a lot of failed attempts at getting its prey before it masters the attack. Once it has mastered it, it grows more confident. This is probably why sharks come off as arrogant creatures, but not at all mindless. When we want our creativity to shine, we must think like Pablo Picasso, not as a painter, but as an artist in general. He did not concern himself with the past and the future. He only trusts in what he creates in the present and hopes that it will remain in the present. And remain, his works did.


To sum things up, the three-step way to gaining and maintaining popularity in the world of creativity is; there are no rules; think positive; believe. Now go forth, and create!



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