The novel I’m working on is set in a small university; among its characters is a sculptor who works in clay. That’s got me researching the subject, to learn a bit more. In The Penland School of Crafts: Book of Pottery (1975), I was ambling along, reading about wedging and bisque firing, only to stumble on a contributor who wanted to get all philosophical by considering what it means to imitate others’ work, and even recommending that course of action. This was confusing at first: isn’t an artist supposed to be ‘original’?
This writer explained that while we often think of imitating in terms of copying, we can also see imitation as the carrying on of an image. Seen from this vantage point, imitation helps us practice the dynamics of imagination; it is the active bearing of an image or idea (p. 17).
An interesting twist on a familiar word….
Taken like this, we note a ‘starting point’–a thing, or even a person–which captures our attention to the extent that we try our own hand at making one of these, or walking that way. Is success a matter of slavish copying? Not really the right question, that–we’re talking about art here, after all.
Better, perhaps, to note what got us going, drew us in, made us want to try something similar. Then, we apply our own glaze; we turn it here, tweak it there. Is the object we’re imitating visible in what we’ve made or done? Probably. Is that a problem? Hardly.