#461 Steal this blog

Sculpture, Kelowna

Sculpture outside the Rotary Arts Centre in Kelowna, British Columbia

At the same time I started this blog, Gary Doi started A Hopeful Sign. Gary is a retired educator and school superintendent who lives in Penticton, an hour’s drive south of me. We had never met. Neither of us was aware the other was planning a blog focused on hope.

We gulped, connected, and moved forward with our plans. The resulting blogs are two very different approaches to the same general theme. Gary has gathered a group of bloggers who each contribute his or her perspective. I’m honoured to be one of them.

For this blog, I’m on a personal quest to identify 1001 things that give me hope. I’m nearly halfway there and have files bulging with so many more that I may reach 1002 and keep right on going.

I’m glad neither of us decided to shelve our plans. The idea wasn’t original with either of us. There were already dozens of blogs with a similar purpose: a great cry of gratitude for this amazing world and a reminder that on the balance scale of life, the good outweighs the bad.

Stealing is just the beginning

I thought of the beginnings of this blog and A Hopeful Sign as I watched Austin Kleon’s TED talk, “Steal Like an Artist.” Kleon wrote a book with that title and the wonderful subtitle, “10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative”.

Anyone watching me watch the talk would have thought I’d finally flipped out. I kept nodding and grinning as he said things like:

Nothing is completely original. All creative work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a re-mix or a mash-up of one or two previous ideas.

How could it be anything else? We’re all just a bundle of questions searching for answers. Our questions aren’t new, and our answers are re-combinations of ideas that are all out there floating around. That’s what creativity is. When we create, we grab bits and pieces, cobble them together in a way that feels right to us, and send them back out as ours.

Pioneer Ranch gingerbread house

We’ve all seen gingerbread houses, but this was a whole gingerbread ranch, created for a family reunion in British Columbia’s Cariboo region

We may paint, dance, draw, sing, cook, design or manufacture our creative output, but we did not create all the pieces we re-combined. Someone else had already danced that step, mixed that paint, designed that wheel or grown that spice. We pulled pieces out of the stew pot of the creative commons, played with them, and presented them as something new.

And they are new because they are new to us.

Kleon’s talk made me think of a documentary I saw a few years ago. I nodded and grinned my way through that one too. RiP! A Remix Manifesto is a celebration of mash-up media. It lashes out at restrictive copyrights meant to protect big business rather than individual artists.

The movie is an in-your-face reminder that culture belongs to everyone. Both Shakespeare and Disney borrowed heavily from the public domain, making old stories new by dressing them in modern garb so they felt relevant to contemporary audiences. Creators have always done that. They always will.

And really, isn’t it about time Warner/Chappell stopped getting royalties for a song two sisters wrote back in 1893 and published in 1912? (Wikipedia’s history of “Happy Birthday to You” is worth a read.)

Re-mix, re-combine, create

Fortunately, ideas are slippery. That little birthday ditty is still locked up tight, but even Warner/Chappell can’t control all the uses of it. Nor should they.

Neither Kleon nor the filmmaker is saying we should steal someone’s work intact and put it out there as our own. What they are saying is that all of us, and everything we create, are products of our families and friends, the books we read, the films we watch, the music we hear, the gadgets we use, the food we eat and the sunsets we watch. All of it comes out of and returns to that common pot.

We dip into that pot every day. We swirl our choice bits around, re-mix them and create something that feels like ours.

That’s what we humans do. It is invigorating. The results are delicious, and they give me hope.


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Marjory - October 26, 2012

Yes. Your lovely post gives me hope and offers the kindness that invites to create more. 😉
Indeed, we are always engaging with what came before, reinterpreting it in some way. And yet, once in a while, lightning strikes and we are able open to currents streaming in so that the unseen manifests itself like never before. All great artists started by borrowing from others. Their work, a unique expression forming part of a great continuum.

    admin - October 26, 2012

    Beautiful, Marjory! “..lightning strikes…the unseen manifests itself.” That’s a profound expression of that experience of openness and receptivity that results in something grand.

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