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I have had several changing reactions over the last few days from Allison’s recent post, it has really been mulling around in my mind. Beyond the initial feelings of disappointment for Al and disgust of the fraudulent blatant copycat, as the comments have piled up I find myself reacting to many different aspects of this whole mess. Allison was the first blogger I actually had a real conversation with (well, as real as an e-mail conversation gets) before she went into labor with Pia. Her blog has always been on the top of my list as I very closely identify with her work, her values in design and her style. She is one of the places I go for inspiration- yet I don’t see that her work has been an influence on mine- and that is the very terms I have been hung up on.

Inspiration and Influence walk a fine line between creation and mimicry. Inspiration is a type of stimulation; Influence as an exert or effect. I guess I see it as a flowing out vs. flowing in. At what point does one override the other and cross into the realms of copying?

The thing commonly called ‘inspiration’ is the thing beyond the technique and the discipline, the think that jumps up with burning urgency from within, spurred on by some revelation or vision stimulated by the interpretation of something perceived. It can obviously come from anywhere- in this context from another person’s work- but it goes a few steps beyond simply copying, as only one or a few aspects of the other persons idea have jarred a reaction and a new creative process has begun. Making something out of inspiration is about creating, pulling something from deep inside oneself- your own knowledge and experiences, design sense, style, and skill- out into the light, molding it and forming it along the way through complex problem solving and development. In a philosophical sense, it is following aesthetic ideas on a creative path, having as much to do with intuitive insight as the original aspect of the idea or thing that spurred the process to begin with. This type of inspiration has to do with one’s own imagination and perception; it is an interpretation of aspects and parts of the original; it mediates mental images and intangible concepts; an intuition is the active intellectual formation of an object into a given material that consists on its part of a complex set of perceptions.

The beauty of the blogging interface is that it enables us to do far more than just present the finished product- the reader follows aesthetic ideas on the creative path of the maker through the sharing of her insights through the process of her work. In this sense, the artist draws conclusions of her perceptions and consequently offers understanding to the reader through the tangible object produced that expresses the original intents of the inspiration. Usually artists presents a “finished” work to the audience, sometimes with no traces at all of the preceding creative process allowing it to be detached, disconnected from the web of thoughts and feelings, the very matrix that brought it into existence. Putting one’s work and self on an interface such as a blog, we are allowing insights into an artist’s creative process and thus makes the thought processes behind artwork tangible.

Therefore the blogger draws a kind of conclusion of his perceptions and consequently tells us how to understand something which they have finally expressed. The clarity of the expression shows the clarity of the insight, and this is exactly criterion that we call quality in art and design. The artist perceives more than we observers do about their work while we are forced to read between the lines. Another artist/designer sees and is inspired by the work and between the lines he suddenly sees something entirely different, new… and expresses it in their own way. This is where the process of inspiration compounds itself in a positive manner. To distinguish, a copier, however, sees the work and sets out to emulate and reproduce what they have seen.

Yet the interface of the web and photography still has a degree of separation, an altering filter of sorts that edits out the majority of the steps and decision making that go into any given finished product. As the observer of something like a blog, we only see a small snippet of the reality of the thing- we could never perfectly emulate what we see through a few photographs and descriptive text. We see what is intended for us to see; that is the power of photography. We also see what we want to see through our own interpretation. Ansel Adams struggled with this concept of how his work was interpreted:

“Photography when it tells the truth, is magnificent, but it can be twisted, deformed, restricted and compromised more than any other art. Because what is before the lens always has the illusion of reality; but what is selected and put before the lens can be as false as any totalitarian lie. . . . The connotations of much of documentary photography are — to me — quite rigid. . . . I resent being told that certain things have significance. . . . I resent being manipulated into a politico-social formula of thought and existence. I resent the implications that unless photography has a politico-social function it is not of value to people at large. I resent the the very obvious dislike of elements of beauty. . . . I think it is just as important to bring to people the evidence of the beauty of the world of nature and of man”

Even if one were to attempt to copy an object seen on a blog, there has to be an infinite number of interpretative changes that take place in the making (rather recreating) of the original, as the copier has no set guide on how the original was made, the steps, certain techniques. I certainly hope that just the mere possibility of being violated by a copycat would stop someone from freely sharing the beauty of one’s creative process with others through this medium. Sadly, it is a double-standard: if you were to take one aspect that inspired you and applied it to your own creation, is that copying? What if you made the same looking (aesthetic) object but with different colors, fabrics, and materials but figured out the entire design and details on your own? How far away from the original (or snippets of the original provided by the maker) do we have to get for it not to be stolen? Where is the line drawn?

The realm of Inspiration and the creative process as discussed in these core aspects focus on the questions: what is a work of art, how does it emerge, what happens in the very moment of detaching, when the work comes into existence, when it is virtually born, what distinguishes it from the impacting idea which came before?

This is where influence plays a role.

All artists and all artistic work are the product of complex influences and human contacts. A style or design sense stems from combined long hours of practising rudimentary skills with intuitive creativity. When someone begins to explore a personal direction based on the inherent qualities of the process itself they usually set to distinguish themselves but still remain within a set of parameters they are either consciously or subconsciously aware of. They develop an individual style that is based off other influences, but the reordering, sampling, and effected resultant that has been impacted by the original influences is not a direct derived mimicry of what came before. Often it is an influence that is transferred from some other realm and precedence come from a broad spectrum of other fields and experiences. Our influences that impact our design work, while some overlapping and similarities will occur, should be individual and unique.

An influence is something external that effects or changes the work and process of creation internally. When another person’s work inspires others past the point of perpetuating constantly morphing ideas, that person’s breadth of influence has a larger impact on the world around them than simply creating work for their own beauty and pleasure. Often times the influencer isn’t aware they have capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects in the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others. The wider the audience, the greater the likely hood of influence. Those who are influenced are hopefully influenced in a way that produces and perpetuates inspiration and the continual recreating of individual work and style.

There is a huge difference between simply causing something without any direct or apparent effort then being flattered by the results of inspiration that have spread, and seeing the whole package that makes a person’s work the individualistic body they have brought into inception be reproduced nearly to the T. Celebrity is both a blessing and a curse. To be so directly Influenced by another person’s work that you are creating things which don’t launch off into a new inception of an idea is a cognitive factor that tends to cry copycat. This is Influence without the reciprocated Inspirational stimulus that makes the new item uniquely different than the first. Influence as an effect devoid of the changes which take place in the inspirational recreation is more or less blatant copying of another’s idea.

As the community of blogging becomes more and more interconnected through inspiring one another along, the opportunities for influence and cross-pollination (not to mention the spur of competition) become great in such a circle. So are the opportunities for philosophical disagreement. So are the opportunities for copying.

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