Sunday, January 25, 2009

rumination #4

Dear Thesis,

Did you know that I have a blog? It is called A Place in the Universe. You can visit it at

I think my blog is a true revelation of my artistic process. Most of my posts are more concerned with what inspires me than what I actually make out of that inspiration. Several readers have commented on the blurry line that I draw between the two. It's often unclear which work is my own, and which work was made by others. I find that delicate balance of differentiation extremely interesting. I recently read an article titled "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism" by Jonathan Lethem, author of The Gift. It questions the belief that one particular person can be credited as the sole owner or originator of their ideas. Lethem posits that, instead, ideas originate from their generator's exposure to the ideas of others, and that it's difficult to trace an idea back to its "original source". Lethem uses the word "cultural commons" to describe that process of idea-sharing, and compares it to the way that writers all employ the same themes and rearrange the same vocabulary to create their "own" prose. 

I have never felt like my ideas are solely my own. In fact, I have no idea where my ideas come from. I only know that I use words to explain them that I did not invent.  My work is never made by me alone. Rather, every piece is like a puzzle that I put together, of which each individual part is an opinion, action or idea that has been contributed by another person, be they Marcel Duchamp, my mentor, my peer, my mother, my mailman, or the viewer. 

One specific example of this is a piece I am in the process of making now. It was born one night at Wal-mart, when my two friends and I were getting our portraits taken at the photo department. We were dressed in silly outfits, and the Wal-mart employee seemed suspicious of us at first. But eventually she warmed up to us, and even liked one of our photographs so much that she said she would submit it to Wal-mart's studio photography competition. If we won, she said, we'd have our faces on the walls of every Wal-mart in the world. During the speech we were given about different packages we could purchase, we were told that we could get our portraits made into puzzles. My friend Philip mentioned, in passing, how interesting it would be to get our pictures taken individually, and then exchange the pieces from each puzzle so that our three images were combined into one person. It's now three years later, and I am doing exactly that, only with 12 images instead of 3. I am combining my landlord, my doctor, my teacher, my pharmacist, my mailman, my trash collector, my gynecologist, my hair dresser, my grocer, my accountant, my plumber, and myself into a portrait of my community. I emailed Philip to make sure he wouldn't resent me for "stealing" his idea, and of course he didn't mind at all. He would never have done it anyway.

Should I feel less proud of that creation, because I am not responsible for its original conception? I find comfort in the fact that I feel no shame in admitting to my exterior influences, no matter how great or small. I aim for complete transparency. And I would feel honored, rather than offended, on the day that someone stole from me.

Yours truly,

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