Muse Flash: Ideas have ancestors

geneology of ideas

“Look at Shakespeare, who borrowed all of his plots. In ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own.” George R.R. Martin

It’s all been done before…and that’s fantastic!

Ideas are the seeds of creativity. And yet, as artists and writers we often get discouraged thinking “It’s all been done before.”

That’s the good news. No, really. It IS good news because I’m not sure anyone is wholly original. We build on each other’s ideas. That’s why I say that ‘ideas have ancestors.’ We can trace their lineage.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet (and it sounds like he got his plot elsewhere.) Along came the creators of West Side Story who basically told the same story but changed it. George R.R. Martin took a story from history, amped it up and made it his own.

You’re probably thinking “But, Aprille, what about Leonardo da Vinci?” (Insert any creative hero here.)

They got their ideas from somewhere else, often the natural world around them. They saw what everyone else saw but  through the lens of curiosity.

Make it your own

What could you create today starting with the inspiration of something else? How would you change it to make it truly your own? I’m not advocating copying. That’s just plain bad karma.  But inspiration? That’s a good thing.

Inspiration always starts somewhere. Steve Jobs got his design idea for the Ipad on a Zen retreat. The designer of Velcro was a hunter who had to pick cockle-burs off his pants and wondered how they stuck there.

The geneology of an idea

Austin Kleon, in his brilliant book “Steal Like an Artist” talks about the ‘geneology of ideas’. I love this concept. So much in fact, that I did as he advised and spent time reading about an artist I greatly admire. From there I tracked down her influencers and saw how they inspired her.

From that I got a whole slew of creative ideas, all of them uniquely mine and yet…not. I can trace their family tree.

See what I mean? It’s not about being an original. It’s about seeing things in a new way by building on our creative ‘ancestors’. I’m not sure anyone starts from nothing. Ideas have family trees.

Gives a whole new meaning to recycling, doesn’t it?

Who are your creative heroes? How have they influenced you? Share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

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