One of the first topics I wrote about on my journal is this one. I'll paraphrase and repost some of it here to share:
New forms do not come from nothing, not for us humans at any rate; they come from prior forms, through mutations, whether un- sought or invited. In a fundamental sense, there are no theories of creation; there are only accounts of the development of new forms from earlier forms.
- Frank Barron
When I was an undergraduate student I took a number of philosophy courses. That was when I first learnt (I recently learnt that learnt is a word in British spelling which is good enough for me because I’ve always felt it more linguistically acceptable than learned) that man does not have the capacity to truly create something out of nothing. The professor I had was Sean Allen-Hermanson (Faculty Profile) and the example he gave us was the unicorn. A unicorn he explained as a horse with a spiral horn not as anything truly new. In my research I now understand this to be Conceptual Blending (Further Reading).
As a designer what interests me in this are two things:
- Just the ideas behind it and understanding more about how creativity works
- Realizing that while seemingly more “creative” the more you are able to break away, perhaps the worse the results will be.
What that second point means is that for example and used in studies one might ask a person to design an extraterrestrial. Some will envision things based off familiar ideas say a little green martian which looks strikingly like humans but smaller, with antennae and green skin. Others will deviate from this which is apparently more creative. However, the further from the reality which is known by the audience the less the audience can relate. An example might be in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer when Galactus was portrayed as a cloud. Fans and critics were disappointed and newcomers were confused. Simply put – it is interesting and extremely creative to come up with a being that exists as a mass of gasses, however it is very difficult to relate to.
One of my favorite conceptual Architect’s, Lebbeus Woods, imagines worlds where things are off-axis, physics may function differently, we may function differently. The results are incredibly interesting studies of how space may exist and in a sense how space does already exist.
Creative cognition as a window on creativity
- Thomas B. Ward
A Design Research: The creative cognitive approach in the processes of shaping and making of a place
- Gokce Ketizmen Onal
To now try to relate this more to the question posed here:
We as human beings don't have the capacity to come up with entirely new concepts. The phrasing "Good artists copy; great artists steal" is towards the idea that a good artist will in fact copy a good work. But a great one modifies it which is in fact theft of the idea. Its a hugely simplistic phrasing but then that's why its memorable.