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Dec 2008
Original Ideas
Posted in General by Pandora Wrigglesworth at 4:40 am | 3 Comments »

Every now and then, someone asks me that question with which all artists are familiar: “Where do you get your ideas?”

How can you answer something like that? We often like to romanticize the creative process and imagine that we get our ideas in a sudden, magical flash of inspiration. We want to point to a single moment in time, some event, some particular sight or experience, which caused an idea to appear in our mind, fully formed, like famous apple which fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

But that story about Isaac Newton and the apple isn’t entirely true. Newton himself liked to tell the story that the sight of an apple falling to the ground inspired him to formulate his theory of gravitation. In reality, his theory was the result of two decades of research by Newton himself, built upon the discoveries of all the great thinkers who came before him.

As Sir Isaac Newton once wrote to his rival Robert Hooke, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Incidentally, Newton borrowed that metaphor from twelfth-century French Neo-Platonist philosopher Bernard of Chartres.

Every new idea, every new invention, design, or work of art, builds upon the achievements of all those great inventors, designers, and artists of the past who were themselves building upon the works of those who came before them, back over through the centuries, a trail of inspiration reaching beyond recorded history.

Even the inventor of the wheel, that unknown thinker in fifth millennium BC Mesopotamia, was building on the work of those before.

Continuous creation, each new generation reaching higher and further, by building on the foundations laid by the previous generations.

Where do I get my ideas from? The most recent bit might be from a movie or book, or from something odd I saw, or from a complaint or need I observed, but that’s just the most recent bit. You might think of it as the last piece of a very large puzzle or maybe just the most noticeable piece, the metaphoric corner-piece with a little bit of sky in it.

I recently received an interesting message from another Second Life content creator who said…

“I am a little bothered by a recent release…. a few months ago I was at your main store and noticed the Orrery being worked on… a basic form, ofset sculpty prims, etc… a few months before that, I created such a device. I put it out of mond as you hadnt tried releasing any products, but now, it’s on the market. I am a bit put off that the basic form isn’t even changed.”

Clearly, this person was convinced that my Orrery Lamp must have been based on a device she had created.

Curious, I checked XStreet SL to see what this person had posted there and, as it turned out, she had indeed built and was selling an orrery. According to XStreet SL, it was chronologically (pardon the pun) the third orrery added to their database while mine was the ninth.

But my orrery was not based on hers. In fact, this was the first time I had heard of this particular orrery.

I purchased one to see what similarities there might be and, in a very general sense, the designs are similar. I attribute this similarity to the fact that both designs are orreries.

I certainly don’t claim to have invented the orrery but, unless this person first posted her orrery to Second Life prior to 150 BC, I don’t think it is a claim she could make either.

To be fair, I did base my orrery design on someone else’s design. I based it on the 1794 Orrery shown at on the Princeton University Library website. Since the creators of that orrery died in the 1800s, I find it unlikely that either of them is the person complaining about the orrery I created in Second Life. For that matter, those artificers of the 1800s created their orrery based on clockwork and orrery designs created by people who came before them, all the way back to the Antikythera mechanism of 150 BC.

Of course, there is no reason to think that any of my creations are completely unique and original in concept. Like every other human being throughout the millennia, my ideas are built upon the ideas of those who came before me. The fact that both I and this other Second Life creator both decided to build orreries, a device which has been around for more than two thousand years, does not require either of us to copy the other nor does it grant either of us a patent on a device which neither of us invented.

To illustrate the point, consider the last thing this troubled artist said to me…

“sigh… nevermind… btw, teh dali clocks sell well you should try and make one of those”

The irony is that, in her attempt to claim that I am so unoriginal that I have to steal other people’s ideas, she sarcastically suggests another of her products that I should duplicate, a melting clock which she calls the “Dali Pocketwatch”. It is a nice design but I have a feeling that it was not this Second Life artist who invented it. I could be wrong but I have a strong suspicion that it was actually Salvador Dali who came up with that one.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just another example of how each of us has been inspired by the countless creative works of the past.

Incidentally, the artist who complained about my orrery later apologized, explaining that she had snapped because she had been having a terrible day in SL.

In conclusion, I leave you with this quote…

“There are no original ideas. Only original people.”
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

Make the most of what you’ve got. You stand on the shoulders of giants.

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3 Responses:

Crap Mariner said:

Even if something is derivative, there’s always room for improvement and variations on interface and such.

There’s also that unerring style and signature that each creator puts into their work. We are slaves to habit, so we will always include elements that people look at and think “That’s X’s work” or “That’s a total Y story.” and such.

Barney Boomslang said:

But but but – they come from Shenectady! Ask Barry Longyear, he told us! There is a small mail order store where you can get your original ideas from 😉

QueenKellee Kuu said:


I count you among one of my favorite and most unique content creators on the grid. Don’t listen to people who are basically saying “I didn’t invent anything, just made an SL version and am mad that you had a similar idea.” This type of thinking stifles the creative thoughts and creations which I think are vital to the second life experience. And if we want to quibble details, you cannot copyright an idea.

I am growing quite tired of the raging paranoia these days.