Saturday, September 21, 2019

On The Dangers Of Inadvertent Plagiarism

I recently saw this 1569 portrait, painted by Antonis Mor, and immediately felt that it looked familiar in a very odd way.

Here's why:  It looks like the pattern of an embroidery I made more than ten years ago:

At the time I liked to relax by creating weird things out of fabric, thread, costume jewelry and so on.  My supplies came from yard sales and flea markets and the Salvation Army stores.

The above "portrait" is a companion to another one, both shown together below (apologies for the flash in the picture and the dirty glasses on the pictures):

The idea behind them was to provide "important ancestor pictures" for people who don't own castles or manor houses, but who would like to pretend that their ancestors belonged to European nobility or even some royal family.

It's an Echidne joke, and may not be that funny for others.  In any case, I hung them in my bathroom for a few years.

Now why I write about this is because my portraits are not direct copies of any paintings*, but were created based on my recollections of all the paintings I had seen, either in museums or in books or on television.  In particular, I did NOT copy that Antonis Mor picture when I created my gentleman.

But if you were shown just the first two pictures in this post, and you were on a jury tasked to decide whether Echidne is a plagiarist, you would conclude that the evidence condemns her.  Or me. 

Even I would agree that the prosecution would have proven their case, and I know that the embroidery was not a direct copy of Mor's painting, in the sense that plagiarism means.

I certainly must have seen that painting earlier, and stored it in the dusty attic of my memory, so that when I designed the embroidery the pattern came from that memory attic.  But without any awareness that it was the memory of one single painting!

This frightens me:  I realized how extremely easy it could be to plagiarize someone else's writings without at all intending to do so.  But it also makes me quite elated:  Somewhere, inside our memories, we may have exact pictures of everything we have ever seen.

Now to figure out how to get all of those into our awareness.


*  The lady was, however, largely put together from various paintings of queen Elizabeth I and of some other royal queens and princesses.

In case you are interested in such things, all the fabric in the clothing of the pair comes from one silk scarf I bought at Sally Army, the other bits (faces, hair and the unfortunate beard) are from my old tops, and the jewelry is from yard sales.