Saturday, July 24, 2010

Simultaneous Invention

From an article by Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker: 

"One of the first comprehensive lists of simultaneous invention was put together by William Ogburn and Dorothy Thomas, in 1922, and they found a hundred and forty-eight major scientific discoveries that fit the multiple pattern. Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians “invented” decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley, in Wiltshire, in 1774, and by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier. Color photography was invented at the same time by Charles Cros and by Louis Ducos du Hauron, in France. Logarithms were invented by John Napier and Henry Briggs in Britain, and by Joost Bürgi in Switzerland.  There were four independent discoveries of sunspots, all in 1611; namely, by Galileo in Italy, Scheiner in Germany, Fabricius in Holland and Harriott in England,” Ogburn and Thomas note, and they continue:"

"The law of the conservation of energy, so significant in science and philosophy, was formulated four times independently in 1847, by Joule, Thomson, Colding and Helmholz. They had been anticipated by Robert Mayer in 1842. There seem to have been at least six different inventors of the thermometer and no less than nine claimants of the invention of the telescope. Typewriting machines were invented simultaneously in England and in America by several individuals in these countries. The steamboat is claimed as the “exclusive” discovery of Fulton, Jouffroy, Rumsey, Stevens and Symmington."

Is there such a thing as an "original" idea?  Is Priestly's discovery of oxygen any less original because Scheele had discovered it a year earlier?  These simultaneous inventions occured at a time there was no mass communication to spread news, trends, and ideas around the world.  The inventors were working in a vacuum and yet multiple people still came up with the same ideas.

Over two years ago I decided to work in a much as you can in this day and age.  I still took classes, but only read blogs of friends and ignored the rest.  I looked at ancient art both in museums and in books.  I took pictures, wrote ideas down and sketched.  Working full time doesn't allow me to make every idea that I have right away.  I pick and choose as my mood dictates.  So I've kept an idea book for the last 7 years.  I look at it periodically for inspiration. 

About a year into my self induced vacuum, I stuck my head up for a stupid whack a mole.  What I discovered was that a some of my favorite ideas...some made...some still in my book...had been made by other people.  Does that make my ideas any less original???  Does is make theirs any less original???

The unfortunate consequence is that this has kept me from making some my ideas.  Because we live in an "I made it first" society, I put a lid on creativity.  But art cannot grow, work cannot evolve with a lid on it. 

Where would art be if that attitude was pervasive, if only one person could be an impresionist and only one person could be a neoclassist, and only one person could be a cubist....I think you get the idea.  Luckily the great artists didn't and don't hold back.  Movements happen because many people work in the same techniques, have the same style. 

And if they didn't there would be a lot of frustrated, angry artists.   Which is what I am at the moment.  I'm angry with myself for holding back.  I'm angry for not believeing in myself.  And I'm angry for letting what others might think stop me from implementing my original ideas.

The anger stops.  The lid comes off.  Creativity flows.  Art Evolves.



Alice Walkowski said...

Well said. Charge forward.

Katie Hanrahan said...

Great article!!! And absolutely true. Make what you feel, express yourself in your art, and don't worry about what's out there and what isn't. Be true to yourself!

Barbara Briggs said...

Gail, just dive in and make what you want. I'm convinced that hardly anything is truely "original" anymore. Almost everything has been done in one way or another. I've had my work compared to other's works perhaps because I like so many different types of jewelry and I do it all. I can't imagine limiting myself to only one style and, perhaps, stagnating in it. Today I may be doing primitive/modern. Tomorrow, maybe very clean lined comtempory. One just has to make what's in their soul at the moment and enjoy the ride. Really, if it weren't for publicity and artist's whose work is so ubiquitous, would we even know that someone out there is doing anything remotely like the work we're making? So don't anguish. Do your work...your own ideas will come through. And your work is beautiful!

Gail said...

Thanks Ladies!! That felt good to get that off my chest