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January 21, 2012

Urgency of the Next and the Finite of the Now

Years ago, when I first started making videos and posting them to YouTube, I remember just trying to figure things out as a newbie to it all. One of the first videos I made, I added a song for the background ... one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite recording artists. When I tried posting it on YouTube, I got an extensive warning from YouTube saying that because the video was detected to have a copyrighted song in the background, that they would be turning my video off. It was silenced.

So for a long while, if I wanted to add music to my videos, I used copyright-free music ... usually the kind you hear on the elevator. Not too exciting ... but the idea of contacting Bono to pay what I needed to pay to play his song felt daunting.

But not long after that, something happened. Something changed.

Jenny Doh
I'm not sure why I tried again but I did. I made a video and used background music from one of my favorite recording artists and loaded it onto YouTube. This time, rather than being silenced, there was an ad that popped up when my video was played, allowing the viewer to buy the music that they were hearing in the background. Genius.

I mean really genius.

I wish I could have a way to track if my video has helped in the sale of that song. I hope so. I hope the video has done its fair share in getting my tribe to either discover or rediscover the awesomeness of that song and put down a buck or two to buy it. The idea that my creative endeavor could help support the creative product of an artist that I love makes my heart happy.

Matters of the Heart
Let's jump to an indie craft show that I recently went to. When I was approaching a table and saw the art, I was ecstatic thinking that one of my favorite artists would be at the show because I was certain that what I was seeing was her art. But when I looked closer, I realized it was not my favorite artist at all ... it was a different artist making stuff that looked exactly like what my favorite artist was making ... right down to the last eyelash. Though the art was beautiful, I didn't want to look at it anyore. As I have discussed with some artist friends, it's hard to definitively define it, but I know copying when I see it. And when you see it, it hurts your heart. And this art hurt my heart.

Googling Myself
Let me admit that sometimes I Google my name. Have you ever done that? It's fun because you sometimes stumble onto posts that mention you or your art and it's kind of exciting and kind of flattering. Anyway, during one of these Google searches, I saw a post of a gal who was showing off a crocheted work she made with hemp yarn. It looked very much like some stuff that I make ... and lo and behold ... she stated that she had bought a kit and video from me, learned to make it, and was going to make a whole bunch more to sell. And you know what? It made my heart happy. It really did. It made me happy that I helped her discover the magic of crochet, inspired her to be successful at it, and that she might even make some money off of what she could sell her network of friends and associates. And I think what made my heart happy is that she was so open and honest about her process, including the origins of it all. So straightforward, you know? I have a feeling that with practice, she'll outpace me in my crocheting skills and create designs that will be head and shoulders above what I could ever make, and challenge me to take things to the next level. And that makes me happy.

But what if she hadn't said she had bought the video and kit from me? Would it have hurt my heart? Actually, this has happened to me before too. And I'm not sure if my heart hurt as much as my heart felt embarrassment for that person, becuase the truth of the matter is ... as Leonard Cohen says ... everybody knows. Everybody knows who inspires who. But for me personally, all of this is a big SO WHAT? ... as I feel the urgency to move onto one of the bazillion things on my list of things to do and make.

I mean, I'm 44 years old. My father-in-law passed away last year. Steve Jobs passed away last year. Etta James just passed. Neither you nor I know how much time any of us have. So how do I want to spend the finite time and energy that I have before me? I know one thing for sure. I don't EVER want to become one of those people who carries copies of Cease and Desist letters where all I'm doing is policing people who I think are copying me. I'd much prefer cheering someone on who is straightforward about how much she enjoyed my video and she's gonna make a bunch more than contact her to say she can't make a whopping 10 bucks off a necklace she sells after watching my video because it's "my" design.

And by the way, I'm not so delusional to think that I am the first person to have crocheted cute petals and circles with hemp yarn and vintage buttons. And I won't be the last.

I want to spend the precious time and energy on creating NEXT. That's what I love most. Not what I made yesterday or last year, or the year before last. I'm most interested in what I can make next. That's what excites me ... so much so that the urgency of the next exposes all the activities surrounding Cease and Desist for what they are: a big fat stinkin' waste of time.

Painting Original
I also know that I am interested in my next becoming signature me.

As you know, I've become mad about painting. In the process of learning how to paint, I think I've gone through a phase where I've mimicked to the best of my ability, my teacher's style. This is the way most people learn. Kids are a testament to this truth. I want to soak up all the instruction and methods and approaches so that I learn exactly how the teacher does it. And I want to be straightforward about that. I want my teacher to know that I'm mimicking her. But after a while, after I have painted for a while, if anyone were to say to me "your work looks like your teacher's," ... well ... that would hurt my heart. As much as I love my teachers, I don't want my work to look like my teachers'. That's no fun. What's fun? When people look at my work and say "That's SO you!" That's fun and that makes my heart happy.

It's been interesting to see how our creative community has for the most part, stood up against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), a piece of legislation, which if passed, would allow the federal government to potentially block Internet sites that are deemed as violating copyright. I doubt that there's a single person in our community whose heart hasn't been hurt. But even so, we have recognized the dangers of allowing the government to impose the ultimate consequence of silencing content based on subjective assessments of when a violation has happened. Violation through one lens becomes a genius opportunity to advertise and make a profit through a different lens.

I come from South Korea ... the region with a citizenry that for the most part enjoys a free society. The opposite is true for the neighboring North Korea. It's not free there. Because the power to censor and silence rules, oppresses, stifles, and sometimes kills.

There are no easy answers. And it's hard to definitively define when it's copying ... when it's infringement ... when it is a violation. It's a case-by-case situation I think ... and case by case, I know it when I see it. But you know what? Hear me on this:

We all hurt.
We have all been wrong.
We have all been right.

How will we react to the hurt?
How will we use the finite, precious time that each of us have?


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Beautifully said! Use the energy to make more art...why waste all the energy fighting with the few who have learned something from us and claimed it as their own...and how can we claim it as our own when there is no clear beginning on so much of the art in discussion. I've made thousands of backgrounds and collages, and looked at just as many YouTube videos and taken many online and in classroom instruction. The art I make is a combination of all I've learned. Nothing I make is exactly like anyone else's, and I sleep well at night knowing my name is on my art. There are many guilty of theft, and there are many artists who simply have a big ego.

Yes, exactly!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. Thank you for encouraging other to look forward to what's NEXT.

Excellent post, Jenny. When I first entered the art world I was much more afraid of all the copyright issues. I avoided taking classes from other teaching artists and was careful about how much information I shared. Then I realized that there really is "nothing new under the sun" but that being open allows for a miraculous cross-pollination that energizes the whole Creative Engine of the planet. It's true, we are so much more than the sum of our parts. And REAL artists want to be known for their own work. They don't really want to copy someone else.

WOW!.....bless you for being so very creative and wonderfully articulate in expressing your feelings and thoughts. You have put into words things I have felt for years in my heart.Thanks for sharing!
creative blessings, Debbie

I suspect you know how happy this post makes my heart.

Most of us LoVe when other artists learn from us, and then go on to let everyone know how much the leared from us. Even more so how much we inspire their work! It makes the whole reason we share feel validated. It's when you don't acknowledge where you learned something .. or worse, try to pass it off as your own original idea, that toes start to feel stepped in, hearts feel broken, and we question why in the world we shared it in the first place. That, to me, seems such a horrible pace for art to live and try to thrive!

Love you for talking about this today!!!

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