The Anxiety of Influence
A teacher I respect once told me that there’s a fine line between research and plagiarism. He explained that using the ideas of others to construct your own creative expression is perfectly acceptable – desirable, in fact – and a practice that’s been part of creative and intellectual development since the dawn of time. contrast, he said, copying with an intent to mislead is a form of theft and should always be avoided and condemned.
It boils down to this: In artistic endeavors such as watershaping, borrowing ideas creatively is a good thing, but deliberate misappropriation of those same ideas is not.
In this issue, you’ll find pieces that illuminate this important issue from both sides. First, David Tisherman’s latest “Detail” serves up one of his most confrontational pieces ever, directly addressing the theft of intellectual property in the design field (click here). I’ll leave it to him to tell the story in full; suffice it to say here that he recently found images of several of his projects published on someone else’s web site with the clear implication that the work had been done by the web site’s owner rather than David himself.
There’s an important distinction here – just the fine line my teacher was describing. At WaterShapes, we publish the works of gifted artists because we want you to be influenced by those projects and use the magazine as an idea book in working with concepts and clients. That’s what exchanging ideas is all about: the work of one creative mind fueling the efforts of another. This is a beautiful thing that enriches our work, our minds and indeed the fabric of our lives.
Perfect examples of this sort of positive influencing can be seen in two of our features this month. In my own article for this issue, we cover the re-opening of The Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif. – a museum wholly and completely influenced by the arts of the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome and an exercise in creative borrowing in the truest and most literal sense (click here).
You’ll also find a project profile by Martha and Randy Beard (click here) describing a residential project that features Mediterranean motifs, rectangular reflecting ponds, classic statuary and fountains, tile mosaics, painted ceiling frescos and open landscaping that spring directly from those same Greco-Roman roots (with a dash of the Italian Renaissance thrown in for good measure).
In both cases, we see very different examples of turning to the wellsprings of design influence in near-perfect ways. What happened to Tisherman is quite another story.
David’s a guy who has devoted himself unconditionally to educating and directly influencing the minds, ideas and design processes pursued by others. He wants these folks to understand how good ideas can be used to improve both the quality and integrity of the work. His generosity, however, gives nobody the right to claim David’s (or anyone else’s) work as his or her own. Doing so is not only a form of theft, but is also a misrepresentation to peers and clients – plain wrong all the way around.
This isn’t so fine a line we walk: It’s the clear difference between wrong and right.
The plagiarist is craven, tawdry and wrong. On the righteous side, where you turn to the work of the masters and allow their genius to inform your own work, you take active part in furthering various cultural and design traditions. This process dignifies, elevates and codifies creativity – a better place to be.