As creatives, it is tough to avoid the guidance of countless works of art and monumental sculptures surrounding us
How much can someone produce when left to the bare imagination and the apprehensible creative process? What is original? Can something be made out of nothing at all?
When concrete and steel forms tower from the ground up, are they resurrected from thin air, or are they fragments of the ideas of numerous earlier projects deep-seated in the designer’s subconscious mind?
Those unjustifiable mental pockets are readily re-recording statements that were already verified in reality, letting their thriving features brew in the mind before they produce more novel aggregates.
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” said Picasso, who excused the blatant act of idea-bouncing and borrowing elements from the environment. As creatives, it is tough to avoid the guidance of countless works of art and monumental sculptures surrounding us, from small forms (an eccentric painting, a slender pan, etc.) to larger structures (outstanding buildings, an arrestive district, etc.). Monumental work tends to own specific irregularities that penetrate the conscious mind, lingering in it before sinking into a bottomless vault: the subconscious mind.
Today's world is witnessing a more outward advance of such attention-seizing monumental works that invade our minds: social media applications. Garnering attention through a fast video is becoming the goal of many young self-promoters. Beyond spatial and product design, the creative process has protracted to running digital imagery on a screen, where design theft –mostly conscious in this case– is more forthright. Online platforms today similarly practice the theft of ideas, copying successful trends from top creators. In a way, design becomes an open-book examination in which anyone can participate.
The intangible imagination isn't an empty source but is muddled with external transactions engraved with existing work. Like a dream state, the thoughts and forms met during the day emulsify and overlap to harvest bizarre outcomes, which may aid us in creation from time to time.
Part of why we read books is to "steal," to learn from other people and withdraw ideas and experiences from their minds to pour fascinating ingredients into our own, to "Stand on the shoulders of giants," as Sir Isaac Newton once said. We borrow thought because our life's tunnel is narrow, and our partial perspective, time, and location constraints don't allow us broad oversight. For the same reason, we study history to borrow insight, "steal," and build new outcomes using old documented mentorship.
By stealing, we become “creatively colonized” –consciously or subconsciously– by the aesthetics we honor. An architect, for instance, may honor the way a balcony protrudes between two pines, a pool that reveals its depth through transparent glass. He may prize the spellbinding tension between two textures almost caressing each other –but not quite touching– because of a 2-centimeter seam that stands in the way, a sudden void or variance after a strict repetition in a façade. All those honored attributes intermingle into a mental reserve system for later use.
An interior designer might treasure a seamless couch in a plummeting sitting area, a full-height door, the little round corners in a chair, the juxtaposition between various degrees of transparency, a staircase that daringly halts the status quo, or an arching rock resting in an interior patio.
An artisan or an industrial designer may appreciate a nominal bottle of water, how a jug’s handle bends or how it almost adopts beguiling feminine curves or the contrast between the smooth and rough surfaces of a microphone or its carefully considered package. All those awe-striking elements stay with us as a standby pool that serves our future conceptions.
Perhaps many designers hope to scheme something that others might be driven to steal, to occupy a space in other people’s minds, a creative imperialistic movement.
With every passing day, ideas are absorbed to the extent that they begin to flux into each other forming new shapes that come out once we pull out a sketchpad (or press a button). Rarely do we attribute our success to others, but quite possibly, nothing comes from… well, nothing. Designers draw their inspiration from persisting structures. Even the celebrated architect Zaha Hadid once claimed that “everything is a copy.” What a designer claims to be original could be layers of “stolen” features: one taken from a charming view in that visit they once had in Egypt, joined up with a scene on page 84 of that book on tiny houses, further blending with part of the neighbor’s villa facade.
Whether it should be taken as flattery or theft could pose an extensive argument. But influence may sometimes cross the line to become creative plagiarism, a conscious mimicking of favored structures, something like the Dutch town copy in Japan or the Austrian village replicate in China. Creatively speaking, the Dutch have ingeniously "colonized" Japan, occupying a mental space that drove them to execute such a project, the “Huis Ten Bosch” Dutch-style theme park in Nagasaki. Likewise, Austria's Hallstatt village has creatively colonized China by embossing itself in Guangdong, instituting an exclusive “cultural exchange” brought by pirate architects.
In a sense, the world for a designer is a paralyzing museum of combinations. Therefore, the external environment will ceaselessly impose itself, leading to unconscious design theft. Stealing parts might be okay if they weld well into each other and create an exclusive yield, a distinct identity from many projects. The best part about aesthetic plagiarism is that the most impeccable entity doesn’t penalize for it: nature, from which we are free to steal.