Amateurs Borrow, Professionals Steal

In most creative professions there is a link with the past. Artists often emulate predecessors as a point of departure, and usually add something that transforms and makes unique, at the same time creating a continuity. Contemporary visual arts is heavily indebted to borrowing from culture. Music as well builds upon the work of others. Contemporary architecture is not alone in the creative professions in seeming to defy this way of making, but it certainly is something of a defining characteristic. Those who seek to work in a way that can trace roots is somehow deemed unoriginal or derivative.

Neil Denari once said “I am original in that I have origins.” He is one of the most creative and original architects working today, yet he acknowledges his connection with those who came before. Fresh from reviews yesterday where this issue came up, this post is for students who resist the critiques of their studio instructor because the idea did not originate with them, but with the instructor. We are all part of a continuity. We are bound together by common language and culture. The ideas you may have are part of a larger context. No man/woman is an island. Take these ideas and run with them as if they were your own. If your professor has suggested something, it is likely because of something that you have put forward, and s/he is merely riffing on it.

To be clear, I am not advocating plagiarism, or blindly copying and pasting things. The development of a project requires a certain organic organization, from concept through to application. But we need role models. We need to be able to decode the rule sets of others as a guide for establishing our own rules. We need to be inspired by those masters who came before. A good idea is a good idea. Architecture is a collaborative enterprise. Architecture is almost hopelessly complicated. We need to be receptive to ideas regardless of where they come from in order to cut through that complication and arrive at a level of clarity.

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