This article was first published in the Stabroek News Friday Edition on the 14th April, 2017.
Guyanese are notoriously shameless when it comes to copying people — or borrowing ideas. Just think about all of the business names and logos that bear a striking resemblance to well known companies around the world. But when do you cross the line of inspiration and venture into the land of imitation?
I was prompted to write this article after an experience I had buying a piece of work from a local artisan that was very similar to that of one in Trinidad. I felt a bit guilty supporting idea theft, so to quell my guilt, I started searching the style; and was pleased to find out that it was, in fact, just new to this part of the world and that similar designs were available globally.
In my own business, copyright infringement and idea theft is something I think about constantly. My fear is not so much in being sued, but in being thought of as trite. Every design that I’ve produced thus far has been done already, Dior’s peplum from the fifties, Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress from the sixties. My point of difference lies in the fact that the fabric, colours and styling, is aligned with myself, and the brand I’m trying to build. I’m constantly reminded of the fact that there really is nothing new under the sun—but that’s no excuse to be unoriginal.
Pablo Picasso once said art is theft. As an artist you become very adept at taking people’s work and somehow injecting it with your own aesthetic with the end product being completely different from where you started. As with everything there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it—or at least a way that leaves you being credible, and your source of inspiration credited.
As disheartening as copycats are they also force new talent to come up with innovative ways to create, that are harder and more expensive to emulate. The more artists I discover here the more I realize just how much the new creative class of Guyana is succeeding in this. Artists like, Nadia Thomas Winter and Natalya Thomas, of Duo Collection, who design the fabrics used in their collections. They are setting a standard of creativity and a point of differentiation that they become known for, and are harder to copy.
I have to leave this graphic that illustrates good theft and bad theft, from Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It would be wise to remember as you create that, though imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, authenticity is the truest form of character.