Some say all one legally needs to change even a copyrighted image is a 15% change in design or function. As a close friend would say, “Oh, Honey…”.
In the time and with the effort it takes to consciously study an artwork and then work to make a 15% change, most artists could create at least one whole, brand-spankin’ 100% original.
I can teach you all I know about metalsmithing, aesthetics and technique – you’re still not going to copy my work. Might your work be similar? Yes. Possibly work in the same style or genre or medium, of course. Yet each individual’s artwork fingerprint is fundamentally different. It is why, given time and attention, copies of masterworks are always discovered, knock-offs painfully clear.
This is one reason why I believe in the open-sourcing concept from the tech world over design patents and copyrights. Now, don’t get me wrong, copyrights are important and design patents under the right circumstances are imperative. But put an idea, concept or technique that you’ve created or re-discovered out there and you will be amazed at the synergy created between you and other artists.
However, that’s not the 15% I’m talking about – squirrel! Creativity is like a muscle, one needs must have the muscle first in order to strengthen. It is both nature and nurture, blessing and gift – something inherent, learned, practiced. Education, training – Academia, provides this muscle if one wasn’t blessed at birth. The best schools even turn creativity into muscle memory and aesthetic becomes innate or inherent. Yet success as an artist is, proverbially, what you do with it.
What takes a work truly over the top, what separates it from all other works in a medium, genre or style, what lifts it transcendently above hobby and industry standard is the concept of 15%. What makes a piece stand out in a world of assembled jewelry from catalogs, knock-offs, “Designed by” enclaves and now 3-D Printing is this 15%. Now, contemplate the artists out there. The talent, the training, the sheer satori found in Creatives across the world and what they can do. Turn off the filter which causes us to see them as competition and give yourself a real world critique. What do you do that makes your work stand out? What is it that draws the world to your expression? Do you simply create to get it out of your head, birth an artwork or find closure for your creative soul? What is it you do to give life to your work – creation isn’t enough, a breath of life is needed.
Okay, it doesn’t have to be 15%. Pick a number. 9%, 20% – what you are striving to do is create your artwork while adding something during the process – effort, craftsmanship, story, detail which takes it beyond 100%. With practice, this becomes a part of the artistic muscle memory. Perhaps Musashi¹ would have said, “The art is in the artist.” Once this 15% is a part of your Awen or muscle memory your 115% becomes your new 100% and the journey continues. This is how we evolve and grow as artists. Pick any artist you consider a master and you will find their fame is despite their process of evolution. I look back over my artistic journey and see valid, pertinent work and yet am so glad my work has evolved, my Awen strengthened and matured. And boy, do I plan for continued evolution.
If you reach the point where you wonder, “why didn’t I get into that show” or, “why aren’t people buying my work” even “where’d my motivation go” and any of the myriad thoughts which haunt an artist in the wee hours, get up and take a look at your portfolio. See the 15% ?
¹ Musashi speaks of “the sword is in the man” as a part of his Book of Five Rings – a concept which to me means taking the sword from being a tool in hand to becoming a natural extension of the body. Over the years I’ve explored taking this concept further from “the sword is in the man” to “the sword is the man”. With art, is it not “the art is the artist”?