Nothing New Under the Sun

What is stealing? What is copying? Where do we draw the line? I’m not here to answer these questions for you. I’m here to make you think about them for yourself. Too often we succumb to the fear of being an imposter. It may be that you’re afraid of being a copy-cat or you’re afraid that you’re presenting yourself as something you’re not. You may be afraid that you’re following trends, doing what other people are doing or haven’t defined your own voice. These fears are most often rooted in the flawed idealization of creativity—the raw manifestation of maiden thoughts.

As you might know, there are a lot of jeans out there. And as you might know, more jeans will continue to be designed, produced, and sold. There are also a lot of gingham shirts out there. Yet, more gingham shirts will continue to be designed, produced, and sold. There are a lot of hammers, chairs, tables, and even bricks out there. And as you may be able to guess, more will continue to be designed, produced, and sold. If you were to look at any one of these examples, you may discover two products that are strikingly similar, but you will come to discover that many of them vary, even if only slightly.

Why does anyone choose any single product over another similar product? The answer is nuance. The answer is preference. The answer is personal experience. The answer is perception. The answer is chance. The answer is choice.

Imagine—in the name of originality—if only a single denim jean company existed and they only manufactured a single style. Imagine if there were only a single type of phone you could use. Imagine if there was only Coke or Pepsi, but not both. Imagine you couldn’t choose which airline to fly with. If we swear by the name of originality, why ever try to improve anything? Why ever establish competition? Why ever uphold our prized freedom of choice?

Let me say something before you come at my throat screaming, “But Matt, these are commoditized goods! Are you reducing the creative industry down to that of commodity?” Creativity and originality isn’t the Excalibur we’ve been led to believe it is. Creativity and originality don’t possess magic and don’t require any divinity—they require perspective. Luckily, we all have our own.

If every artist refrained from “copying,” how many masterpieces would have never come to fruition?

It’s easy for things to look the same when you’re looking for similarity. The issue with that is, that’s not how we experience the world. You don’t go through the grocery store thinking, “Oh wow, two brands producing Coconut + Almond milk? Geez, no originality.” Instead, you choose the product you decide tastes better or the product that suites your needs. You buy the brands which best resonate with you, fit your aesthetic or however else you may go about your decision. It’s our personal perspectives, experiences, and preferences which warrant variation and choice.

The point being, just because something out there exists, doesn’t invalidate your desire to create something of similar resemblance or rooted in similar concept/approach. This isn’t an ethical argument in favor of copying, but rather an argument which suggests that, in starting from scratch, your inherent personal perspective grants you some degree of originality.

If you have something to contribute, don’t let the romanticized idea of divine originality prevent you from creating what you want to create. Don’t suppress your own voice and what you have to contribute. The only new thing under the sun is your perspective.