The Pact of Originality

As someone who holds originality as one of the most important qualities in a person, I can tell you it pisses me off to no end when someone steals an idea. It's even worse when it is stolen and portrayed as original, or stolen and used for profit. I've seen it happen with art, inventions, jokes, and even something as simple an image lifted off a blog without proper attribution. When did it become okay to do this? Why do people think that they can take someone else's creation and pass it off as their own?

Originality and Plagiarism on Twitter | Crappy Candle
Are we really this ignorant and lazy?

Every so often something out there on the world wide web surfaces and that someone receives wild praise for their original idea. Every so often, that wild praise throws me into a blind rage. Case in point: Alexa Meade. I wrote a blog post about this three years ago, and her art recently popped up in my Tumblr feed. To clarify, I have nothing against Alexa Meade's art. It is interesting and engaging and obviously people are going goo-goo-gaga over it. My issue is the fact that one the major accolades she receives from critics and casual admirers is how damned original she is. How she is "reinventing" the medium. I went on a Google tirade to see if in the last three years, anyone else (besides me), has made the connection between her 4 year old idea of painting-on-people-to-make-them-look-like-paintings and The Pageant of the Master's 70 year old idea of painting-on-people-to-make-them-look-like-paintings. I really wanted to see if Meade had acknowledged the fact that her idea had been done before... 70 years before. Aside from a two commenters on blogs (who had been shamed via down-voting) and a lone blogger who trivialized the connection, I found nothing. Nada. I left my computer in a huff after typing "I hate Alexa Meade" and seeing this:

i hate alexa meade | Crappy Candle
At least I know it will now show up in Google because of this blog post.

The experience got me thinking about something that has always haunted me. Is anything one hundred percent original? Including my idea that nothing is one hundred percent original? Hell, The Barenaked Ladies even wrote a song about it. And there's this fabulous lady...

I remember once talking to one of my good friends about music. She was saying that music is inherently mathematical, so eventually, mathematically speaking, we will run out of original melodies. I told her that the same was true for ideas and stories, but she disagreed with me. It's still something I think about. All. the. time. I often fear that my "idea well" will run dry some day and I will be left as a dried husk of a Shay. It's absolutely terrifying.

I don't think there is self-manifesting mind fountain, that flows freely from of each of our brains, and allows for an abundance of novel ideas. All ideas come from somewhere. Unless you are a robot, or living in a vacuum, you are constantly being influenced by your environment. All ideas are inspired, if only subconsciously, from our own life experiences, and yes, the experiences and ideas of those who have come before us. Not giving credence to this is a slap in the face of our ancestors. Yes, I actually wrote that because I actually mean it.

I also believe that our creativity and our God given individuality is what sets us apart from each other. I believe it is one of the major contributors to meaning and identity in life. We are not of a hive-mind, Borg mentality here, people. We need to continue to diversify ourselves, our way of thinking, and our ideas in order to progress as human beings. Revel in your uniqueness, otherwise, we're just a bunch of people, regurgitating the same old shit whilst rolling around in it. Gross.


  1. What you don't realize is that Alexa has taken her art to a different level. It is not just painting, it is performance, photography and originallity. She paints lights and shadows. She paints action and movement. She makes 3 dimensional objects appear 2 dimensional. But above all, she makes us think and look again and again as she tricks our mind with her creativity.

    1. What? You're throwing out bullshit art school terms here.

      First, the Pageant of the Masters is also a performance. And it's considerably older. Meaning Ms. Meade is anything but original.

      Secondly, "paints in lights and shadows"? That doesn't mean anything. Any artist who wants to create any illusion of 3-dimensionality in their work uses light and shadow. That's kind of a big one.

      The whole point of the article has NOTHING to do with the quality of Ms. Meade's work. NOTHING. It's pointing out that her idea is not original. And I've yet to see any evidence to the contrary. It's ok to have an idea that's not original. Why does everyone defend this particular artist's "originality"?

    2. Perhaps you should do more research. The Pageant of the Masters is not art, it is a copy, it has no artistic merit. Body painting, tattooing, and theatre makeup have been around for a much longer period of time. But Alexa has created a new form of art, painting, performance and photography with creativity, making a three dimensional object appear two dimensional without any photoshop or computer enhancement. The concept is new and fresh, unlike any other art of the past or present. Look a little closer and a whold lot deeper. There is a reason why her art has been shown at the National Portrait Gallery and why she has been called upon to lecture at various high level venues around the world.

    3. Whoa, sweet Shay you found a real Anonymous Internet troll. Cool!

      You know who else was a "painter of light"... Thomas Kinkade, the least original artist of all time. He did make a goddamned fortune, though.

      "Artistic merit" is entirely subjective, as is a claim that something is "unlike any other art... past or present." Which was the entire point of this blog post. Perhaps you should do more research.

    4. JOEL!!!!!!!! You stole my comment. How unoriginal of you to pretend that T.K. pisses you off more than he pissed off your mother....that aside.....Shay. I hear you. In college, an assignment was to name the artists who influenced and influence our style. It was reallyreallyreallyreally difficult at the time because I thought I was so very original. The professor's point is that our ability to make art right now is the direct result of artists who have come before us and who have paved the way for us to do what we do. I've never forgotten that exercise because MY art making, even though I have been doing this for 40+ years, has been and is affected by everything I see and everywhere I go. Being aware of that is what keeps me humble and also keeps me sane.

      Picasso, who was often criticized for stealing ideas, said something to the affect that if he can do it better, then the idea was his. Hummmmmm......ewwwww. I dunno. Makes me squirm.

      Great posting. No need to do more research.

      Love. Marjie McW

  2. Haha, alright. I'll try this again. I'm going to try and say this as clearly as possible.

    This is NOT a critique of Ms. Meade's work. Nor is it questioning her work's "artistic merit".

    The idea, the concept, of painting a three dimensional object to appear two dimensional is not an original one. Am I implying that the work itself is not good, or without merit? No. I'm just telling you that her idea isn't original. Not in the least. Her execution might be new and exciting to some, but the IDEA is an old one. AND THAT'S OK.

    I was going to post links to examples of this particular kind of work being done by others, but I really don't want to figure out how, or research enough names to prove my point. Just from recent memory, Google the Real Life Lichtenstein Girl, used for a MAC Cosmetics ad. Or Bernard Pras, a French artist who uses found objects to create "paintings". Using three dimensional objects (and people are objects) to create the illusion of a two dimensional image is NOT a new idea. And to claim that it is would be lying to yourself.

    This is all a subset of anamorphic art, which I'll tell you now, isn't even kinda new. Just in case, you'd like to do some research.

    1. For your edification, other artists have painted cartoons and have not been able to show action, expression and depth. Nor have they performed live performances and had audience participation. Alexa, through the use of color, has given lights and shadows where none have existed but could exist. She has made a still life become alive. Yes, there are and have been others, but no one has been able to capture all aspects into their art. All without computer enhancement. I have been to one of her performances.

  3. I'm afraid I don't quite understand what you just said.

    Look, I gather that you're a fan of Ms. Meade and her work. I get it. And that's cool. I'm happy that an artist and her work speak to you on any kind of level. It's an exciting feeling. I have a few favorite artists whose art speaks to me, and it's one of my favorite feelings in the whole world. I'm also an ardent believer that there is an audience for every piece of art made. So please, don't misunderstand my statements as a put down of Ms. Meade, her art, or you for enjoying them.

    Maybe you can help me out. You keep citing her work as being participatory. How does the audience participate in her works? (And I hope you don't just mean that by viewing the work the audience is participating in the art. Because I've heard that nonsense since high school.)

    But I feel like I need to say it all over again. Painting people to look like paintings is not an original idea. "But this person did it better!" Doesn't really matter who did it better. Better doesn't factor into the argument posed in the article above. (Though we can get into that if you'd prefer my opinions of Ms. Meade's art.)

    1. I attended her event at the National Portrait Gallery where the audience was allowed to participate and be part of the live performance and photography. Her art is not painting. Her art is a combination of painting, performance and photography. This is what makes her art unique and at a higher level than what has been done before.


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