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