Nothing is original. Not even the title of this article. Not even you and not even I. Mere adaptations pieced together from the genetic data of our parents and our grandparents, sharing the code of our existence with siblings, niblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, chimps, bananas. We are hardly original.
What inspires us? Music? Poetry? Films? Whatever it is…it is created by people. People who have been smitten with the same smell of the ocean, the same warmth of the early morning sun, the same sound of the chirping house sparrows, the same feel of the lover's touch. The experiences and feelings we go through as human beings are surprisingly similar. It if weren't so, no author and no musician could have ever been able to connect with their audiences. Could have never been able to evoke in their readers and listeners what they saw and felt. It is for these shared human experiences that we are able to communicate, inspire, excite, and narrate stories of times gone by and of lands lying far away.
What is true for us commoners is true for the legends and poster boys of originality and innovation – Picasso, Mozart, Rumi, Dali, Sadequain, Ghalib, Tzu, Jobs – the list goes on and on. If they, as people, were influenced and inspired by what already existed, how could the work they produced not be derived from what already existed? What had already been said. Already composed. Already imagined and reimagined. All of these greats took the same photographic negatives as the ones before them and the ones after them. The same photographic negatives of inspiration, taken to their very own dark rooms. Those mental repositories of their experiences, their desires, their love, their hate, their favorite textures and their preferred narrative structures. The negatives were immersed in and developed with their own potent potion. What they created as a result was not ground-breakingly original, but enthrallingly authentic.
Why, then, are we so quick to label so much of creative work as plagiarized? Why do we forget that a vast majority of trees have green foliage? All birds have wings. Some fly, some don’t. Most flowers possess petals. Some have many, others just a few. All woods have grains. It’s not difficult to confuse a Cherry with a Mahogany. Does that mean the Cherry plagiarized the Mahogany because it is visually similar? Absolutely not. The Cherry is the Cherry and the Mahogany is the Mahogany. Both have their place in nature and in our lives. It matters very little that the woods look alike to us. Look closely. What’s at play is the same ‘photographic negative immersed in your unique potion’ phenomena. Both the Cherry and the Mahogany are standard-issue woods, but one smells just a tad earthier, grains a little closer, ages a bit darker. These tiny details make them authentic and endearing.
If you desire to produce something valuable, create something of interest, pay heed to what Jim Jarmusch says: ‘Authenticity is invaluable, originality is non-existent. It's not where you take things from; it's where you take them to.’ Take the same photographic negatives that inspired the Wordsworths and the Mantos and the Gibrans and the Pamuks and take them to your very own dark room. Expose them to your very own magical potion – aged and matured as it has over the course of your life, acquired a full-bodied persona. Immerse the negatives in the cauldron of you and bring something to the world. Nothing original, just something authentically you.
Authentic is what matters. Authentic is our best bet at a valuable contribution to the shared human experience.
by Najwat Rehman
While he wears many hats, Najwat is a design thinker at the core. He loves anything and everything to do with design and has a special interest in branding and user interaction/experience design. He is also the Founder & Editor of The Desi Design.