Sometimes I wonder why I stretch myself so thin instead of focusing all of my attention on one specific thing and getting it done, but aside from the fact that I'm not built that way, I find that I'm more fascinated in seeing how the arts cross and influence one another. In the January 26th New Yorker, two different artists speak about very similar things.
First, in an article on the choreographer Balanchine, Arlene Croce writes,
"He subscribed to the Hegelian view of history as a spiral: everything recurs, but in a different form. Not only dance movement but all art, even the most novel-seeming, is a version of something that has already been said or done. For this reason, he saw no harm in appropriating; he stole and was stolen from--that was the way of art. As he told Volkov, "If you like something of someone else's, why not take it? The important thing is that it seem natural and fit in." With Stravinsky, he shared a firm belief in the labor of art as perpetual renovation: Stravinsky, who liked to quote Goethe--"Everything has been thought of before: the task is to think of it again."Is it just me, or is everything about that paragraph fantastic? First off, I've got to read some Hegel, but along those lines, it's very reaffirming to hear the anti-copyright argument made so apolitically. It's also reassuring to remember that my own creative writing (i.e., not criticism) doesn't have to reinvent the wheel; I can work a familiar story, so long as I find a different way of pointing it out. As I've said before, I focus on theater because I feel like that medium gets the closest toward creating an entirely new worldview--because so many different opinions go into it, from the writing to the directing to the actor's interpretation to the audience's reaction.
It's also great to just ignore the Disneys and Rowlings for a moment and just regard the simple truth that simply allowing someone else to use Mickey Mouse or Harry Potter will not be allowing them to profit off of your invention. They need to use it naturally (i.e., well), or nobody will buy it. If you are that protective of your intellectual property, then you know deep down that you aren't deserving of it--you fear that someone else will come along and tell that story (or write that character) better than you. And for serious, when it comes to creativity, I am most certainly an Objectivist. I want the best art possible.
Nowhere is this more clear than in painting, where artists study, mimic, and eventually find their own voice by working with the greats; in Calvin Tomkin's profile of Walton Ford, we learn that this 48-year-old artist has learned a lot from Audubon, and we get this great line about the difference between "illustration" (cheap entertainment) and "art" (meaningful masterpieces): "[T]o become art, [illustration] has to open up and allow for other intereptations." In other words, the more closed-off an object is, the less great it is. What makes the Mona Lisa so resonant is not simply itself, but the way in which the original has been so magnified by a multitude of contrasting works--even forgeries--that only re-enforce the beauty of the original. (Which is not to say that some of these spin-offs didn't become masterpieces themselves.)
Television--the most immediate and fluid of the visual art forms--has started to realize this. (Granted, the Pepsification of Saturday Night Live isn't necessarily the best way to start, but then again, MacGruber is a knock-off, too). YouTube clips immediately mash up and reinterpret the present (just listen to the techno remix of Christian Bale's [expletive deleted] rant). All of these simply provide us with more and more worldviews, none of which are necessarily competing with one another so much as providing further context and insight into the way we actually think--into the way, ultimately, that we are all human.
Let's bring it all home by assuming that Goethe is right: everything has already been thought of. What's left, then, is to find new ways to combine it. And if we hold back the building blocks of our culture--if we cling desperately to protect "property"--then we are just handicapping ourselves.