I was threading up my loom this morning, getting ready to weave my Complex Weavers Collapse, Pleat and Bump Study Group samples for our annual sample exchange, and I was listening to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit.  I was enjoying the performance of a piece which I have played many times as oboeist in several different orchestras over the years, and noticing the differences between this particular recording and some of the live performances I’ve played in.  Then it suddenly struck me….

Music and dance can be performed many times by many different artists.  Many conductors, orchestras, soloists, dance troupes, and choreographers use work composed by someone else but interpret it in a personal way. That is an accepted part of the music and the dance world.  And it happens with classic works and with contemporary works.  We get cover versions – other artists covering a song written by someone else, and often performed originally by someone other than the creator. 

However, in the visual and written arts, that rarely happens, and when it does, it is regarded as plagiarism and a bad thing.  This dichotomy interests me!  Why is it that such different methodologies appear so polarised depending on what art form you are engaging with?  There are exceptions of course.  If someone in the visual arts already famous in their own right does something reminiscent, say, of Bridget Riley, then that will usually be accepted as ok because they are already established in their own oeuvre.  However, if I was to re-interpret a Bridget Riley piece, then I would be copying or not showing originality.  Isn’t it curious? 

And as a writer, if I was to write a story based on a writing style of someone famous, then that would probably be ok.  But having just recently read Swiss Family Robinson, and currently reading Robinson Crusoe, it strikes me that the two books are more than just superficially alike!  Daniel Defoe got there first, a couple of centuries earlier!! 

As I straddle both camps – that of a musician and that of a visual artist through my weaving – it is interesting to note what I can and can’t do, ethically speaking.  It is not expected of me as a musician that I should compose my own work.  It is expected that I can play my instrument to a high standard and perform and re-interpret other people’s compositions.  As an artist, it is not expected that I re-interpret someone else’s compositions.  It is expected that I create my own visual language and have the skills to interpret my thoughts in the way that I chose to express myself.  As a conceptual artist, it is enough to have the thoughts and have followed them through to a conclusion.  It is not even expected that I have the skills to realise them – it is the thought process, not the physical manifestation which is the important element.  Hmmmmm.

What do you think?