Talking about creativity - copying vs. inspiration

copying inspiration creativity
Jen Cooper of Classic Play

Don't you love getting together with a friend to talk about something? I know that I do. The give and take, the back and forth - I learn so much about the topic and my friend too. My thoughts and ideas are sharpened and honed. You know, a little more thoughtfully than, "that's stupid you crazy woman!"

That's what inspired me to start a new series here - "talking about creativity". Every so often I'll sit down, whether in person or by email, and discuss some aspect of art-making or creativity with one of my bloggy friends. And what you'll get here is our conversation.

We know the topic ahead of time but we only read the other person's response when we are ready to write ourselves. It's off the cuff, off the top of our head. Who knows where it'll go.

This week my partner in crime is Jen from Classic Play. We're talking copying vs. inspiration, a hot topic with all the lifting of photos and posts that has being happening.


I've been thinking a lot about copying lately. Mostly because I know a few friends who have had their content copied word-for-word by another individual blogger who then posted that material as their own. Now I wasn't thinking about getting into the whole copyright issue and how to protect your work as such. That's blatant "copying". Obviously a no-no.

But what about inspired by? Where is the line? Is there a line? What's copying for you and what is inspired by? Henry Miller noted that, "And your way, is it really your way?" So is anything really original?


Ah! What a great first topic. I've actually thought a lot about this one. Back in the day, I thought everything I did was original. "AH! I'm so clever! Look at this thing I created! It's so original!" A few times, not long after I released the thing I created into the wild, I'd find an eerily similar thing pop up on a site, store or magazine. 


Omig-d to the being paralyzed while you wait until you find SOMETHING that no one else has done. I'm newer to this world of blogging than you and am still finding my own voice and style. I think that's why I can relate to you trying to be so original. I mean, of course, we all try to make or write something that's new. But putting on that pressure on ourselves so that we end up doing nothing? Not so good.

I do think, though, that there IS a place for copying. Really. Kind of a step before your iteration/interpretation lovechild. Not in a way that you put it out as your own work but as a way to break down why some writing or photograph or painting or film works. And why mine doesn't. Or at least not as well. Use it as an exemplar and try to recreate it.


Speaking of copying, last year my husband and I put together something I was really quite proud of. It was a short little video that was a 'reinterpretation' of the classic children's film The Red Balloon. I use air quotes very loosely because seriously, the first didn't need to be reinterpreted. 


Thinking about your "homage" to the Red Balloon. No one would ever think that yours was the original, even if you slavishly remade it frame by frame. Yet it takes the themes and the feel and the look.

And I think that helps me get closer to what I have been thinking about - that copying or reinterpreting THE best of a genre. To pay homage and also to learn some skills.

What did you learn from making your short? How did it change you as a creative person?


As far as storytelling goes, which is at the heart of this art form I copied, I learned that subtle changes in a story could give it a radically different feel. I also learned that even though conditions may not be ideal, you can still put something together you could be proud of. 


It’s become that or it can be that – like many art forms, you can only learn them by doing and also by working with someone else who is further along than you. I like that idea – working it like an apprenticeship.

So my friends, what do you think about copying? Where do you draw the line between inspiration and let's be blunt, theft of ideas and words and images? How can you learn otherwise? And what about this idea of an unofficial apprenticeship with those who have gone before you? What could that look like for you?