When I read the refrain “Give credit where it’s due” being parroted by people who assume they originated what they produce, and that no one has ever done it before (so they should own it) it makes me crazy! Then it makes me laugh. Sometimes I think things were better for the arts during the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
In those days, great artists produced work that was paid for by private patrons or governmental institutions. They did not sell to the public. Artists could concentrate on producing a body of work over a period of time with less pressure on making sure each production was a “hit”. By drawing a regular stipend under patronage, artists were more prolific and produced hundreds of works. Since they were already paid for, the works could be enjoyed by everyone, without charging admission.
Now, under markets that are called free, artists of all kinds spend years trying to survive and still produce work. Because they must trade their work for sustenance, they pander to prurience and limit originality to increase marketability. Many give up and begin doing non-creative work. The prospect of eating regularly and paying your bills is a strong incentive. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the arts were considered to be an essential profession, as valid as carpentry. That isn’t true any more. It’s viewed as a luxury, and our ability to experience life through the creative expression of culture is impoverished by the change.
There’s been an enormous shift in what is considered intellectual property. In the Renaissance, nobody could assert ownership of an idea, only the specific expression of that idea, which was produced as work-for-hire. The artists got paid for a work and credited with having produced it, but no ownership or control over the use of the work once it was paid for. Now people try to codify ownership of the expression, the concepts, and any terms associated with the ideas, demanding credit, fees and control over usage in perpetuity. Are we really better off the way things are today, with any work that becomes sufficiently successful being fought over in court?
One thing I did not point out explicitly in my last post, the one about how a popular song can get altered, adapted and passed on in new forms for many centuries, was that this happens with nearly everything that is created by humans. Laws, religions, literature, architecture, science and technology are all built directly upon work originally produced in the very distant past. But modern people are greedy and small-minded when it comes to their own view of originality, and we can’t escape acting like any other mammal. We keep our place in a hierarchy. We will admit we adapted the plot of our play from an idea by Shakespeare, because he’s the “big dog”, and not mention the fact that Shakespeare borrowed all his plots from earlier works.
This makes the very idea of “credit where credit is due” a bit absurd. Most people have NO FREAKING IDEA where credit is REALLY due! We only know the last person to have restated the theme, re-inked the picture or renewed the copyright before we got hold of it. It’s polite to give them credit, but it’s also pretentious as all get out. If you believe anything you are writing, designing, photographing, saying or even thinking hasn’t been done before in some version, it’s likely to be an indication of your own ignorance.
Does original thought and original work exist? I believe it does. However it happens more rarely than people are generally aware of. For most, the originality culminates at your own birth. There’s no one else quite like you. Even if you do have your Mom’s hair, your Dad’s eyes and that funny way of smiling Uncle Harry used to have.