Inspiration and Ownership


 In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me.” An idea is not diminished when more people use it. 

(from creative commons website)

I love the quote above. Such a good reminder.  In this time that we live in, when there seems to be a mad rush to define everything as private or corporate property, it can seem a little odd, or risky even, to just….. well, give things away. And I’m only human. What if someone “steals” an idea from this website and uses it for their own work? I can get carried away by that worry, from time to time. I’ve also talked to other artists who fear something being taken from them when they post their images or techniques online. But that in itself implies that we all “get” our ideas and “produce” our images in a vacuum. The fact is, we are all, every day, influenced by ideas and images out there. We can’t help it. 

Notice I put the words “steals”, “get” and “produce” in quotes- these are all concepts of ownership. And it really begs the question: are we the static “owners” of our ideas, or are we only the temporary guardians of our ideas before the go out into the world in their viral fashion, and produce more ideas?

 I am reminded of something that my favorite drawing teacher once told us- that we each have our own mark, our own hand. For better or worse, I could try and try to make a mark like you, but it would always still look like my mark. It would look like me trying to make a mark like you, but me still being me, it would most definitely be my mark. 

An important and intriguing thing to think about: how do we walk that line between individual protections, and protecting the open sharing ideas, which fuels all creativity?

2 thoughts on “Inspiration and Ownership

  1. Ruth Armitage

    An interesting question. I know I often gain as much from teaching painting as I give…. Somehow by sharing and idea, I am forced to refine it and reinforce it in my own mind. Bottom line, the most successful artists and businesses wil always be those who put their own marks on ideas or combine ideas in unique ways. Why worry about the others?

  2. Stephanie Clayton

    great topic. ruth’s comment hits the nail on the head.

    most of us are acutely aware that inspiration comes from everywhere. it’s how you use it that makes your work your own, or not. and it helps to recognize when something creative is stolen from the source. this is an actual problem in cultures which don’t adhere to copyright laws nor codes of ethics. i know, because where i live, stealing songs, or parts of songs for new recordings is common and accepted in the local culture. i frequently teach art to children, so whenever the issue of ownership and “copying” comes up- whether it’s a song, painting, whatever- i use the opportunity to teach some valuable lessons on the subject that will hopefully stay with students into adulthood.


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