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The Paradox of Inspiration

My Zentangle Paradox, done with Zentrarte via Instagram
Pilar's Paradox

Some of you will remember a very uncomfortable situation a couple of years ago when a person in Europe offered tangling courses that had a distinctly similar aspect to Zentangle, despite their protestations that it was completely different thing. I don't want to 'go there' in this post but it seemed a good place to start for this strangely delicate and complicated concept of inspiration. I would just like to say that maybe this person (unnamed, note) was consciously or unconsciously inspired by what she had seen of Zentangle. The defence of the 'new' and different concept is vigorously made - no sense that copying or taking an idea was, or ever had been, in their mind. To others, however, it could seem to be a case of jumping on a bandwagon, even blatant plagiarism for personal gain. It's not my intention to stir up any feelings about this particular case.

But! There is a fine line, I believe, between imitation and inspiration, between copying and being inspired, between looking for things that we could learn from and showing people what we have learned. The line between copying and plagiarism is much clearer. Plagiarism is stealing, passing off someone else's work, words or ideas as one's own. The intention is to deceive. Can I share a comically sad story here...I'll keep it short!

Last year, I was in Lancaster teaching English to students from overseas with the focus on English for Academic Purposes. One of the topics we covered was plagiarism. In some countries, students are or have been in the past, encouraged to use the words of their betters and elders to express their opinions - without the use of quotation marks or reference as we might do in the West. And this is not acceptable at a British University so the concept is taught in some depth. I really enjoyed the classes and felt sure that my students had really 'got it' when we finished the topic. They were set an essay to discuss the subject. Imagine my shock when one student turned in a piece that immediately failed the plagiarism software test - about 70% was plagiarised! I read it and clearly, there was hardly anything that she had written herself. We had a strongly worded explanation in her tutorial and she was left in no doubt what she had done wrong, although I still was so surprised at the website she had chosen to plagiarism from... it wasn't an academic site, it wasn't even Wikipedia. It was a website that SOLD an academic essay writing service! How ironic is that...poor girl, she was out of her depth and this wasn't the only thing that she didn't quite grasp, but the paradox of the situation has stayed with me. (I also think it wasn't her true intention to deceive..she knew she couldn't write the essay and thought it was more important to hand something in than acknowledge her inability to tackle it).

But less of that and the other and more of what I wanted to write about here.

Another CZT posted in the Facebook CZT group page recently about how it could be a good idea to have some guidelines on how we acknowledge the inspiration used in the online classes that so many of us are now offering, free or paid for. And whilst I think a discussion could rattle on for some time and still not provide clear guidelines, I was inspired by the 'Paradox' (all Zentangle puns intended) of the situation. And as I made a comment on Facebook, I could feel a blog post coming on. It happens sometimes.

There has been a study done on 'The Inspiration Paradox' (and no, I'm not going to reference here. It's my blog, not an academic paper! Just believe me or Google it for yourself) but interestingly, it identifies that when we are less focused, i.e. not looking for a solution, we are often most creative. I liked that and it applies to the method and philosophy of Zentangle. Don't think about what you are going to create, just start. The creative bit will probably come once you draw your first few lines. But what if you are following an online class and need to copy what the other person is doing?? Is that being creative? It's copying, isn't it? And copying is

Well, apparently not! It was George Bernard Shaw, that controversial old Irish playwright (I guess he wasn't always old but he looks it in the photographs we see of him) who said, controversially or not, the much quoted:

"Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it is the sincerest form of learning"

As tanglers, as artists, we can learn so much by watching and copying what others do with their art. I could sit and watch videos of my favourite artists drawing all day. I sometimes want to learn from them, how they add a touch of shading, how they join different tangles together, how they add colour or use a string; sometimes I want to copy what they do to feel the process through my drawing muscles, making a long curve, finishing off the ends of a grid...and sometimes I just watch for the pleasure of seeing someone drawing. Gives me a little tingle of pleasure - like listening to perfect music or watching Torvill and Dean ice-skating (I know you won't all get this reference but Google them too if you want a little tingle of perfect pleasure!)

And it was Jean-Luc Godard, the film director who said that it's not where you take things from, it's where you take them to, that really matters. I paraphrase, of course. I learned a lot from teaching EAP ...And Salvador Dalí himself who said - I presume in Spanish or Catalan or something other than English, but this is the translation - "Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing."

So if we are to be worried about acknowledging people, about people copying from us or about copying from others, let's just try to do the following:

Credit the source if we can. Honour our intentions. Be honest and transparent.

And at this point, I will do the above. I found a fantastic article on an artist's website and as she sort of said it all, I have lifted chunks from it. So I'm doing what I believe is right, by crediting her, (Christine Nishiyama, and providing you with the link to her website where you can read the article yourself...and see that she does it better than me but this way I feel honest and transparent).

As a teacher, there is nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see how someone has been inspired in one of my classes to go away and do something that looks quite different with the ideas that I have shared. I have seen some amazing copies of things that I have done in a class, to the point I have to check it's not the one I did myself! But I am thrilled to see what has happened when an idea has taken root and grown as a variation and more often than not, blossomed into something utterly incredible! Where do my own ideas come from? Well, from everyone whose work I have looked at, whose classes I have taken, from all the Zentangle patterns and variations that are freely available online, in books, as weekly challenges, in do I credit all of these things? Well, if I can, I will. And I will try always to be honest and transparent and credit my sources. I will always attempt to honour the complex and paradoxical situation of being creator and copier, imitator and inspirer.

We can't be expected to deliver an Oscar-type speech every time we produce something, thanking everyone from our parents to the next-door neighbour, but neither should we think that we are ever truly original or unique. And that as long as we don't try to pass off someone else's idea as our own and we attempt always to be honest, I think we can find a not-too torturous way through this situation. And remember, in Zentangle, the end product is not the point. It is the journey that is key and our journeys are always uniquely individual.

Am I being too pompous..this blog was a bit of a journey for me!! I feel better for it!

RIght - a little Paradox sketch done for fun.

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