Friday, May 04, 2012


Insight comes, more often than not, from looking at what’s been on the table all along, in front of everybody, rather than from discovering something new.
Originally, feathers evolved to retain heat; later, they were repurposed for a means of flight. No one ever accuses the descendants of ancient birds of plagiarism for taking heat-retaining feathers and modifying them into wings for flight. In our current system, the original feathers would be copyrighted, and upstart birds would get sued for stealing the feathers for a different use. Almost all famous discoveries (by Edison, Darwin, Einstein, et al.) were not lightning-bolt epiphanies but were built slowly over time and heavily dependent on the intellectual superstructure of what had come before them…. There’s no such thing as originality. Invention and innovation grow out of rich networks of people and ideas. All life on earth (and by extension, technology) is built upon appropriation and reuse of the preexisting.
Stop stealing crap. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against stealing. I’m against the quality of junk you’re stealing. Design is the collective knowledge of all the design that has been done before. So take advantage of how others have solved a particular problem. Learn from what they did and see if you can take it to the next evolutionary step. Do I mean that you should literally steal their code or drop their screenshots into your own work? No. I’m telling you to be aware of and take advantage of the learning that came before you. Be aware of yourself in that timeline. And become the person who next generations will steal from. Don’t be afraid to steal, just steal the right stuff.
That last quotation comes from a list of 10 resolutions worth the read. Besides this one, I particularly like the "Stop saving bad work." Probably my worst fault, born out of the traditional quilting mantra of using up every scrap and my upbringing by parents who lived through the deprivations of the great depression. As it pertains to art, working unduly hard to "save" bad work may not be the virtue I would like it to be. I think he may be right in calling it "ego salvaging" instead.
On the other hand, sometimes it only takes more thought and a light bulb moment to discover the very thing that will save a work and propel it to success. Does that mean the work wasn't bad to begin with though? As I stitch away on "Masks" I've had this sinking feeling that my thread choices were not pulling out the design as I'd intended. Not bad work, just not working yet work. As I stitched yesterday, the light bulb blinked on momentarily: beads! I know I'll be adding other elements once the quilting is done, possibly including some buttons I've set aside, but beads had never been on my radar. Now I am excited once more.

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