Something to Think About

Creatives Talk

Iris van Herpen designs

Somewhere between the shock of a pandemic shutting the entire world down and its ripple effects, and this month’s realization that this quarantine stuff — if everyone plays nice — will probably go on for another year, I found an article where two creative forces, the designer Iris van Herpen and the choreographer Damien Jalet had a conversation.

It was May 2020, and after holding our breath since mid-March, we slowly began to exhale, wondering how we were going to get through this, would we ever get through this, and how to pick up the pieces of lives, covid-style. And then this article came into view (one in a series from The Big Ideas in the New York Times).

As you can see from van Herpen’s designs, she is not your average fashion designer. So this excerpt surprised me (Damien Jalet, asking the question):

Stanley Kubrick said that some of the artistic failures of the 20th century came from an obsession with total originality, and that innovation didn’t happen through abandoning the classical art form of your own discipline. . . Does the question “Is what I’m doing original?” ever come up in your creative process?

cotton quilt blocks from 1890, from here

At one point in our quilting world, we quilters spent a lot of time and spilled a lot of ink (figuratively speaking) over this issue. We were rabid with the question of who came up with this idea first? Who was the first one on the planet to draw a particular block, make a particular quilt, yada yada yada.

Scrappy Stars, from here

Ms. van Herpen replies:

Nothing comes out of nothing, so the craftsmanship that we master we can attribute to a long evolution of craftsmanship and innovation combined throughout so many centuries. And we are looking at that constantly. So in that sense, I don’t believe at all in originality. But at the same time we are combining it with technologies of today and newer techniques… Without the knowledge of the traditional craftsmanship, we would not be able to integrate these new techniques at all. So they really need each other.

Nothing comes out of nothing. This implies that we quilters, without the history of what has come before us, would not be able to create our designs and our quilts. In her words, “we really need each other.”

Log Cabin quilt, 1870

Back to Kubrick’s idea. I remember in my earlier days striving mightily to create something totally my own, something that had no origin from anything that we were familiar with. Anywhere. My early attempts were, as he says, “failures” as they “came from an obsession with total originality.”

D.C. Dots & Dithers, from here

Slowly I began to remember that when I was in college, in photography class, one of my professors noted that we don’t have to be original, that most of the best ideas are really only 10% new — anything more and they would be too far out of the mainstream to be accepted or enjoyed. An article on The Next Web reiterates this:

There is no such thing as a new idea. One of the most beautiful things about humanity is our ability to build on each other’s ideas, making small tweaks and giant leaps into new innovations. That doesn’t mean your ideas aren’t potentially interesting and even important — just don’t ever call them “original.”

The idea, that I don’t have to be original or new or startling or gee-whiz-bang, and that I can just make a solid quilt with good color choices and a somewhat fresh take, is a relief.

Criss-Cross Color

from Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Quilt patterns: a four-patch block known as a Lattice block

from here

This month’s Gridster Bee Block, chosen by Bette has its origins in a Churn Dash variation, known as Puss in the Corner, from Nancy Page in the 1920s:

I admit, sometimes I doodle around and then hit Barbara Brackman’s book to see what our early quilters did, and often what I think is something I’ve discovered, is actually on the pages of the Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns. There’s a whimsical sort of — well, of course — that goes on, but also another link from me to those women long ago. I honor this connection to our “classical art form of [our] own discipline.”

Happy Stitching!

14 thoughts on “Creatives Talk

  1. I just read an interesting post on Instagram, where a woman said she had been working on an “original“ quilt that she was very excited about. She happened to page through someone else’s feed and saw a quilt with a similar premise So she abandoned her project. She was devastated that she was “ copying” and must have earlier seen that quilt which was her inspiration. Dang it, if I have to remember every color scheme, piece of artwork, tile design, Bathroom wallpaper in a restaurant that I have ever seen in my entire life or else have a derivative work, I’m going to have to have my brain erased. Aren’t we in some respects the sum of all we have observed?

  2. And let me just tell you, this is why I no longer belong to the modern quilt guild. They have taken this thing of “derivative” just way too far. As far as I’m concerned, if you are making anything with Tula pink or Anna Marie Horner in which the fabric is immediately recognizable, then it’s freaking derivative. There I said it.

    Also, I am very iffy on creatives as a noun.

    Can’t we just all relax and make stuff?

    And also, hello!

    (One of my employees sent me a text message this morning that was a rant about something being broken, and then three messages down it said “and also hello!” And it gave me such a giggle)


    Carol Gillen

  3. Just read your post. You might know that I have been a fan of Iris for some years. Your thoughts on originality are interesting. Love, Christine


  4. What a thought-provoking post! I had never thought of originality in that way before. Of course we are influenced by everything in our world—how can we not be?

  5. Such an interesting topic, and one that many of us relate to. For me, attempting to “make modern,” and create “an original design” is often a frustrating and disappointing experience. I may be slow to understand, but I’ve come to accept that “original” is interpretive and elusive. In fact, haven’t I known this for years? The Bible tell us so: “what has been done will be done again; there’s nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

  6. I’m like Carol, I guess, making for the sake of making! I know I’m not making anything original. I have a saying on my blog page-“ the joy is in the making, not the having”. Interesting to read others thoughts too!

  7. I love, love, love this sentence:
    ‘One of the most beautiful things about humanity is our ability to build on each other’s ideas…’
    What is NOT original about this concept? Our contributions with and to one another are what connect us and what help us find hearts that are in sync with ours.To me, that connection, that synchronicity, is what makes life exciting and exhilarating! I love that about being a quilter.

  8. Excellent timing on this post! I just had a great quilt idea that I’m super excited to explore, and then got stuck in the “what if someone else already tried this?”. I had pretty much decided to go on and try it, but this article helped remind me that really “there is nothing new under the sun”
    Plus, its been a long time since I’ve started a quilt with excitement!

  9. Your posts are always full of really interesting thoughts and connections! I just love all kinds of quilts, and from all those types of quilts, I tend to gravitate towards making simple quilts, mostly the kinds that don’t require a pattern – just graph paper and a pencil. For me, nothing is prettier than a simple nine patch! Just want to enjoy the process, make my own rules and break them when I want to. I don’t know what I’d do without quilting in my life!

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