13 July 2013

Imitation as Creativity: Rock and Roll and the Renaissance

Imitation seems to be an overlooked route to creativity. Young, white British boys trying to imitate old, black American men helped to create rock and roll and give it its distinct sound. 15th century Italian artists trying to imitate Roman artists from the time of Christ helped to create the Renaissance.

We all have our own potential and limitations, live in our own time, have our own technology, our own audience, our own trajectory. Because context can change everything, even an attempt to perfectly imitate something from another place or time will inevitably result in something unintended, something novel. And of course it is not just context that will inevitably be different - so are we.

Imitation also seems like a distinct phase of development. Every song writer first learns to play someone else's music. Every writer first reads a lot (and probably all first try to imitate the voice of a writer they admire).

It would be interesting to emphasize imitation more as route to creativity, to something unique. If we better understood development, context, and how incompressible each life is, we might trust imitation more. Go tell a kid to be just like _______ (fill in the blank with anyone you'd like) and there is only one guarantee: they won't. But still, it could be fascinating to see who they become in that period when they make the attempt.

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