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June 20th, 2020
This episode is dedicated to Nick Hawkins who has been kind enough to share some of the content from Tinkered Thinking, and who has been a kind and generous companion in dialogue.
Some while ago Tinkered Thinking shared a quote online that is an essential principle for creativity. It’s as follows:
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” – Tinkered Thinking
This is, of course, a lighthearted joke that utilizes the practice that it describes: Tinkered Thinking didn’t come up with this combination of words, Picasso did. Well, at least, that’s what’s popularly believed. The actual origin of this idea seems to come from W. H. Davenport Adams in 1892, which may have influenced T.S. Eliot’s version of the quote. In the end, by attributing this quote to yourself, it’s actually quite difficult to figure out who exactly you are stealing from. The most accurate answer, which is also the least satisfying, is that you steal from a group of people who pondered the concept and batted the idea around in different variations.
The tense implication remains: is it art to steal? Is that creativity? And of course, there are the more difficult questions: is this good or bad?
Any moralistic question, like this last one, must be itself subjugated to some questions, principally: is this a question worth answering? We may react quickly and say that all questions regarding right and wrong are essential and worth answering, but pause to genuinely wonder about this.
Is it possible that we might create more harm by answering the question of whether something is good or bad?
The answer could be yes, which means that perhaps there are some moral questions that are simply less useful, and less interesting than others.
It’s not uncommon to see creators publicly bemoan the use of their material in contexts that don’t attribute the source of the material. From a strictly material view point, this certainly seems justified. But, there are deeper aspects of such an occasion that are far more important and almost always go overlooked.
What does it mean when your creation pops up in another place? At base, this means that someone’s mind was so moved by what they encountered, that the content replicated. That doesn’t happen with everything. In fact, if you consider the sheer volume of content that we are inundated with, it’s amazing that it happens at all. The first, and perhaps only conclusion we should draw from this situation is that the material is valuable. Someone saw enough worth in it to spread it. The concept of ownership might seem like it’s in conflict with this notion of valuable but again, we must ask: is such a connection helpful or useful? Such a question makes more sense if someone steals your car. In that case you’ve actually lost something. And with this juxtaposition we get at the heart of the difference. If someone replicates your work at no clear material cost to you, then this person has actually done you a favor, especially if your work is based in ideas. Anyone who tinkers with ideas and seeks to be genuine and authentic about the meaning and value of such ideas must come to the question of effectiveness, or rather:
are your ideas working?
Replication, from a memetic standpoint, is the first sign that an idea may be effective. If the idea readily finds a welcoming home in the minds of other people, then you might be on to something. It might not actually be something good, as bad ideas can spread just as much as good ones, but the ability for an idea to spread is necessary for good ideas to have a larger impact – there’s just no way to get around that fact. Point is, at the end of the day, if your material shows up somewhere else, then you’re on to something.
There’s also the issue of attention, and how we use it. If someone else finds your material valuable, then it means you are capable of creating good material. So are you going to waste time getting hung up on issues of ownership, credit and arguments that are likely to cause more harm than good… or are you going to spend that time and attention creating more? Case in point: at the urging of a disgruntled confidant Tinkered Thinking reached out to someone who was kind enough, and inspired enough to share some of the material from Tinkered Thinking, but this was attempted in a way that was intended to be gentle and curious, no more. What resulted was an incredibly generous conversation. Tinkered Thinking has clearly found a true friend. Now observe, would this outcome still occurred if Tinkered Thinking had reacted with frustration and anger? It’s entirely appropriate that the outcome could have been far worse. In addition, the conversation helped generate this episode which is humbly, and gratefully dedicated to this companion in conversation.
And that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, generosity, or rather: what we generate.
An authentic creator strives just to generate. If people find our creations valuable, then generosity is likely to be the response, in the long term.
It’s a sign of deep weakness to get bent out of shape over things such as content appropriation. Not only is it possible that we might be completely wrong about the intention, but such a reaction totally glosses over the important implication that our work is good.
There is only one appropriate response that honors the value of our content, and that reaction is
donating = loving
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