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Written and Illustrated byKimberley Saul

The Trap of Originality and

a bit about Tying Flies.

You’re walking along a body of rippling water in which specks of light dance as they appear and disappear in the sun and shadow of the day. Somewhere, since ancient times, a fisherman carefully bows to examine the rather curious looking creatures and critters of the water. Shiny flecks adorn their bodies with wings that stretch outwards ready to hum the songs of those who came long before them. The proudest of them seems to float atop the water and, with bold swift movements, declares himself the lord of this water’s flies

Sadly, he didn’t account for the steady giant that glided below him. The trout flicks its fins and is rewarded with a delicious morsel. The fisherman, ever watchful, sees wisdom in the scene. With tufts and strands of material he finds; he mimics the look of the water creature atop a fishing hook. His mimicry is rewarded with a delicious trout meal and a newfound craft that is itself subject to mimicry by others through future generations to finally, much to my own delight, end up on my Instagram feed in the form of an ASMR-esque fishing fly-tying video

No man who cares about originality will ever be original. It’s the man who’s only thinking about doing a good job or telling the truth who becomes really original—and doesn’t notice it.”

– C.S. Lewis

I’ve often questioned the role of mimicry in the creative process and have been met with the very loud sentiment, ‘mimicry is the death of originality and uniqueness, never do it aaaaaaah!!!’. These values glorify the ‘new’ unchartered territory of the mind in search of an innovation that promises fame and praise in the eyes of the creative. However, this same sentiment usually filled me with shame whenever I indulgently filled my Pinterest boards with images of other artist’s work as inspiration for my own future pieces. My curiosity in this along with a stumble across @_shetiesflies’ very beautiful ASMR video of fly tying led me down a path I’m grateful to write about today and that is the idea of mimicry not as the end of creativity but the creator of it.

David Perell who speaks about ‘imitate, then innovate’ calls it the Originality Disease: “a pervasive plague that makes creators feel scared to imitate other people’s styles”. The problem? The more we strive for originality, uniqueness, and bolts of inspiration from thin air; the more we suffer in a frustrating echo-chamber of nothing to work with. You cannot make something from nothing. On the flip side however, I’ve found that the more we reverse-engineer, explore, engage with, and engage in mimicry of other people’s work and thought processes, the closer we come to finding our own unique progression and voice in things. The African concept ‘Ubuntu’ touches on this very nicely by describing how ‘we are because of others’. 

“O, sir, doubt not that Angling is an art; is it not an art to deceive a trout with an artificial fly?”

-Isaak Walton

I believe even our very own identities are a collection of experiences, environments, and relationships that we have been influenced by in our lifetime. It is in our very human nature to learn through mimicry and to deny ourselves the pleasure, knowledge, and resulting appreciation of mimicry is to deny what makes us human. This of course is not an excuse for the exploitation of another’s work and must be applied with the level of respect it deserves. 

The concept that we are the product of our experiences and interactions also does not mean we have no control. I think paying closer attention to what we consume and are exposed to as well as delighting in the inspiration that comes from diverse and attentive experiences is how we can foster creativity. You might just find the ticket to creativity hiding in a fishing analogy. Now go forth and wield the magic of mimicry as you become your own lord of the flies!

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