Original thought, chasing the end of the rainbow

“To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage” — Henri Matisse.

I am lying in bed with my nephew, willing him to sleep. The lights are off with the promise of a story to send him off to dreamland. It is raining outside and together we dream up a story about Drippy the rain drop. Drippy dancing on a cloud until he falls down down…and our adventure starts where Drippy lands. Sometimes in a desert, sometimes in a rain forest, always eventually finding himself back in the ocean. Our stories are exciting and inventive.

Drippy never fails to revive and rejuvenate the environment where he lands. Inspired to write our stores down I start by searching the internet for ‘Drippy the rain drop”. I am confronted by a Google search with thousands of results. Drippy has already acquired a patent and an empire of educational material written about him.

Drippy alive and well on planet earth

I am gutted and intrigued at the same time. How is it possible that people across the ocean have had exactly the same thoughts? Reading further I find a theory called original thought theory. This theory posits that my invention of Drippy was simply based on someone else’s thoughts who drew their inspiration from someone else.

Searching further for ‘unintended plagiarism cases’, I am confronted with two million search results. Cringe worthy high profile court cases of people accused of stealing someone else’s ideas. Once convicted the guilty author fades into insignificance. It seems that the moment money, profit and fame are at stake the author faces a million jealous eyes that will scrutinise originality and howl loudly if similarities are found to any other work already existing.

That was mine! (This is not my drawing)

Mortified that I would ever be guilty of stealing an idea from someone else, I research how this could ever happen (here not I am not referring to blatantly and lazily stealing someone else’s work). Psychologists suggest that our memories are slippery and influenced by time, this is called cryptomnesia. It is possible to read something and later think it is your own idea. Doris Kearns Goodwin famously accused of plagiarism. She was later found guilty, her reputation now in shambles. She tried to explain that paraphrased notes were not her own and that she had failed to cite the original author and then forgot that the words were not her own. Let me quickly thank Bella DePaulo, Ph.D for the information contained in this paragraph.

Having just finished a masters degree at Wits university I have come away with a fear and a dread of ever plagiarising a sentence. New software readily available like Turn-it-in, quickly and efficiently finds sentences, phrases and paragraphs already published in any academic setting at any time. Academic work handed in must be accompanied by a report of the percentage of similarity to existing publications. Threatened with immediate expulsion and disbarment if ever found guilty my fear of stealing someone else’s work haunts me as I type every word. So ever near that it threatens to halt my writing completely. It is not only my writing that suffers from the fear of plagiarism my paintings do as well.

Forest gateway

I have just finished this painting called forest gateway. The painting was an accident as I was painting a forest and in a fit of frustration painted the background white to start again. It looked interesting so I added foliage to the front of it. Surely in my fit of rage I had created an original piece?

The technique of starting the edges in dark colours, then moving to the light in the back of painting is certainly not new. This technique transcends many paintings of forests. I have seen paintings that have a path flowing toward a source of light, an idea that pervades many pieces because it gladdens the human heart or at least it gladdens mine. I must have learned that along the way. Thus, although no exact painting like this exists all I have done is add a hint of new perspective to the forest painting. Perhaps that is all any of us can hope for, to build on what we know from others and try to add a hint of originality from your own experience.