What do you think about “copying”? Is it anti-creative making a product by following the instructions? How important is the knowledge of the technique? What is its role in the creative process? This are far from obvious questions, which can open a discussion in art and educational sphere as well, between the function of rules and free exploration, between structured and unstructured activities.
I don’t think there is a choice that is always right. I would rather like to open a reflection starting from a concrete example. Let’s consider a very simple and well-known technique, which consists of joining some pieces of cardboard (or another material) by inserting them through cuts at the ends of each piece.
It is illustrated in the image above, taken from a book I really loved in my childhood, “Così per gioco …” by Elve Fortis de Hieronymis. But there are infinite applications of this technique also on the artistic level: from the futurist flowers by Giacomo Balla (1918-1925) to the animals by Junzo Terada published by Chronicle books, just to name a few (you can see in the images below).
If you know these sources, you could decide to copy one of the models or to invent a new one, thus applying the technique in a creative way. I think neither of these two choices is absolutely “good” or “bad” at all. In fact, sometimes “copying” does not necessarily result from laziness, but from some particular emotional or cognitive need (of security, strengthening knowledge, imitation as a social strategy, etc.). Furthermore, a new creative reworking does not always correspond to a relevant objective of the context.
For example, I designed these animals for a workshop in a women’s prison. Participating women could sell the cardboard animals to earn some money: they were not interested in creating new ones, but to build the maximum number of nice animales in the limited time available. Thus, I think the question is not about copying vs inventing, but about the reasons of the choice, its accessibility and connection with the context.
Another example: for celebrations and collective events, an extemporary garden with large “futurist” plants can be a functional exhibition of great effect. In the photo above of a preschool’s opening, you can see how the original idea of futurist flowers has been “copied” but in the meantime re-contextualized and, according to the new context, variated through new size, shapes, mode of use. Visitors – both children and adults – could stop and make paper flowers for the trees.
The same idea of “futurist plants” can be proposed in different ways, depending on where they are placed. In the case of the “Literary Forest”, set up for the birthday of a public library, each tree was dedicated to a poet. I had inserted some sheets of paper with poems in the branches (through cuts) and the participants of the workshop could choose a poem, cut it out and use the words to decorate some special flower-pencils.
But let’s go further: of course, flowers and animals are not the only thematic application of this technique. Unexpressed potential can be explored to respond to new needs and contexts. For example… a big game with a path on the ground to be crossed by jumping (you see in the picture below), during a children festival dedicated to the movement playing.
What value does your social, cultural background assign to tradition and innovation ? Our implicit way of using the technique – following what we already know rather than exploring the unknown – is influenced by this further fundamental aspect.
If you reach a high level of a creative techique, you know that, at a certain point, you will find yourself along a continuum between adherence to the canon, on the one hand, and free experimentation, on the other, explains the psychotherapist and art therapist Estella Guerrera. When you know how to do something very well (or let’s say “well enough”) you have, at least, two perspectives: continuing to do it in the same way or breaking the pattern, using your skills to do something different. Both ways make sense, but this apparent dichotomy puts us in contact with the concept of “evolutionary change” and with the concept of risk. In the psychology of the life cycle, we are called to precisely pronounce ourselves on these issues in the various existential phases: do you stay that way (and “you know to know”) or do you change and risk of failure?
I would like to offer you a small gift which is in the same time a kind of provocation. If you ask it by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, I will send you the templates of the bunny and the rocking bird, which you can copy and build with cardboard. After that, I invite you to invent a new animal or any other subject, figurative or abstract, with the same technique. Which experience did you like most? Which was simpler? Which would you propose in your educational contexts, how and why?
You are very welcome to share your works and reflections. Enjoy!