Originality is undetected plagiarism

This is a famous quote by William Ralph Inge.

We are all influenced by others, every single person and everything that has ever been created has come from a person who is the sum, the cocktail of the influences she has had in her life.

That cocktail is the uniqueness, what we choose to put in the mixer and what comes out is our own take on the people who are our heroes.

Yet we seem all to be searching for that magic gem of something original. There is nothing to be gained from that search, it is far better to be spending our time ‘stealing’ from others. Not in a way where we make an exact copy, but where we take the influences of many and blend it into something that is uniquely ours.

Our own individual journeys through life are ours and totally unique, no one’s life will match anyone else’s. The influences we choose to bring in will be uniquely ours.

So, in fact, it is not stealing, it is flattering all our influencers by taking their work and adding our spin. That is where the originality comes from.

It is important though to give them a mention, for two reasons. One it is totally shitty to claim others work as your own, well copying is stealing, adapting is what we all do, blending, remixing, repurposing. Second, it helps people who see your work to know who influences you, as they may share the same heroes.

This blog was partly influenced by reading the great book ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon.

2 thoughts on “Originality is undetected plagiarism

  1. It’s interesting that even Inge’s sentiment isn’t original. For example, during the 18th century, Voltaire wrote:

    Ainsi, presque tout est imitation… Les esprits les plus originaux empruntent les uns des autres.

    This can be roughly translated to:

    Therefore, all is primarily imitation… The most original thinkers borrow ideas from one another.

    Incidentally, while reading “Salad for the Social” (1856) for research a week ago, I came across this one:

    Originality has been defined “unconscious or undetected imitation.” “As for originality,” wrote Byron, in his journal, “all pretensions to it are ridiculous; ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’”

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