Monday, August 6, 2007


A weaver who has decided to start designing her own stuff might well work in something like the following way. She really likes log cabin and she really likes the color combination of blue and green. So she weaves a scarf based on this idea. It is a lovely scarf. She is very proud of it. It is her own design, her own creation. It is original. Whoops. Then she happens to look at pictures of items done by other weavers. In doing that she finds at least one that is almost identical to hers. Actually, it would be amazing if she didn't find a lot, because this really is a favorite structure-color combination of many people. She realizes that her piece is not original. And she may even have sold it, so she might start worrying about copyright issues.

What is wrong?

Nothing is wrong. The idea was her own even if the result wasn't original. What matters is that the idea was her own. But she wants to be original. Why didn't she come up with something original? She feels she is just not talented. Whoops.

The easy answer, of course, is to say that there is nothing new under the sun. Ahh, she can breathe easier now. She can give up the effort and just go about weaving what other people have woven. And that really is a choice. But for those of us who are not comfortable with that choice, who actually would hate having to make that choice no matter how tempting, we can continue on.

Painters, sculptors, composers, weavers, for all of these, their first creations are probably all imitative and not truly original. I am forgetting the geniuses, but I suspect that even their first works were imitative. And how many artists burn and destroy their first creations.............. We never see their true beginnings. And we do have to begin somewhere. And imitating, whether conscious or unconscious, is a pretty good place to start.

Artists gradually develop original ideas by continuing day in and day out to weave, paint, draw, sculpt, etc. They work on finding and developing their own voice, they work on finding their own path.

I like expressing it as finding your own path rather than finding your own voice. Finding your own voice tends to suggest to me the need for deep internal soul searching rather than working at your craft. While soul searching may have its value, I think it is much overestimated in its value for the creative artist. Of much more value is, dare I say it, hard work.

One way not to find one's own voice is to try continually all different sorts of things. Flitting from oils to pastels, from structure to structure. This can be useful at the very beginning just to find what appeals most to you. But at some point a weaver who is trying to find her creative way has to settle down to exploring in depth something in particular: a particular structure or a particular fiber, for example. The person from the above example, for instance, might decide she really likes blue and green and wants to explore that combination. So she may try the colors in different fibers, in different weights of yarn, in different structures, in different variations of color, even starting to dye her own yarns. Then she may start exploring the two colors in combination with other colors. This could all be most interesting, if, and only if, this path really intrigues her.

Originality is something hard won. And perhaps it is not even possible to win if that is a person's goal. Perhaps the focus needs to be the joy (and frustration) of the hunt. Perhaps, like happiness, originality comes only as a by-product. Perhaps originality comes in the process of developing mastery of one's materials and instruments.


Leigh said...

Well put, Peg. You've written some real food for thought.

Dorothy said...

You've described so well something a difficulty that I get back to thinking about again and again. I quite agree that the best way to "find a voice" is to explore different media.

But with so many people in the world, and so many gone before us, maybe originality is largely an illusion?

I feel that western culture sometimes demands originality to such an extent that we loose too much of what is traditional and good. Also, some work that is very original is actually very uninteresting, original does not always mean good.

By contrast, the oriental cultures have held in the highest regard the artist/craft worker who can reproduce the best of the traditional designs to the highest standard, and I don't think anyone would argue that oriental art/textiles/ceramics etc are not of the merit. I think original developments in oriental art probably have arisen in the manner you call "by-product", when someone of great skill and expertise has moved on, building on the traditional.