The idea of copying/stealing that I mentioned in the Shakespeare TaDum post, keeps pushing it's way into my experience which is a good thing if I'm going to address that bullet in my "to do" list. My friend Annie pointed out that I was doing a kind of copying when I quoted her poker report into my blog, followed by copying my friend Lynn's baseball report. Now as an English teacher, I know this was more like reporting from other sources with clear citations. But as an English teacher, I'm also acutely aware of how blurry the line can get between plagiarism and appropriate/adequate citation.
The issue also cropped up when I was making my way through the Amazon.com blog (I was totally captured by that blog and kept returning to it for most of a day--see Blog Heaven post). One particular post referenced two articles in Harpers (Feb. 07) on originality and plagiarism.
The first article is a paired response in which two artists debate artistic ownership. One of the two is a photojournalist who shot pictures of Sandinista rebels and the other is a painter who used one of these photos as the basis for a painting. (You can see the painting here. Scroll down.) The photo journalist objects to the painting because it places the subject outside of its original historical context.
I checked out the painting and it's original source (at the links provided above), and the painter has clearly cited her source in a label that accompanies the work. To my way of thinking, this is sufficient. She lets viewers know where her idea originated, and if they choose to follow it's trajectory, historical or otherwise, they can with this citation. That is exactly what I've always hoped to teach students as a critical notion regarding documentation.
The second article by Jonathan Lethem is a defense of the "artist's right (and duty) to borrow, steal, allude, echo, repeat, rework, and rob." The blogger goes on to report Lethem's closing:
Don't pirate my editions; do plunder my visions. The name of the game is Give All. You, reader, are welcome to my stories. They were never mine in the first place, but I give them to you. If you have the inclination to pick them up, take them with my blessing.
Now this argument slips into the realm of Shakespeare's version of "copying." I don't know if Shakespeare cited his sources, but I rather doubt it. I think instead that it was clearly apparent that he was often adapting popular stories of the day. While in Ashland, I listened to an actor explain the trajectory of the core idea in Tom Stoppard's play On the Razzle. The story originated (maybe) way back in the mid-19th century and traveled through time to evolve into the musical stage production and then movie of Hello Dolly. Stoppard actually returned to the earlier story placing it in the 1840s, but the director of the Ashland production chose to place the play in the first decade of the 20th century.
What all of this says to me is that creativity and art are in large part interpretation . . . a molding, carving, shaping of concepts to keep them fresh and living. Part of the fun can be looking at an idea's history, but each piece also needs to be able to stand alone on its own merit.
One more thing I learned when I was at Antioch University is that copying, stealing, reshaping and also citing are ways that artists converse with one another, the way they offer praise and gratitude as well as argue or enlarge upon ideas.
Nothing new here: Just ph thinking aloud.