June 2016

Design integrity has been a much discussed topic within both my academic and practitioner networks of late.  In an environment where imagery is shared, posted, tweeted and liked, changing hands, spreading instantly, there is often scant care about the provenance of the content or accuracy of the narrative.  Whilst the basic premise of intellectual property rights is straightforward, defending them is often anything but.

Imagery swirls around us, inspiring and informing us constantly, shaping the landscape of our imagination.  It is vital for creativity.  But the extent that we have it at our fingertips now makes it both a blessing and a curse.  Conscientious practitioners, particularly within design, are constantly mindful not to stray (even by accident) onto others’ toes as the commercial ramifications can be significant with the potential to damage multiple reputations.  The impact is no less significant in the contemporary craft world.  Exhibition, press and social media exposure leaves a trail these days that means the defense of ‘I didn’t know about your work’ just doesn’t hold up.

It is said that there is ‘no such thing as an original idea’ but fresh applications and new relevance is being established and developed by dedicated makers all the time – the result of in-depth research, lateral thinking, lengthy experimentation, critical reflection, risk-taking and hard work.  Establishing a distinctive artistic voice is vital and livelihoods become built on it.   Creativity also requires an emotional investment and it can be hugely frustrating and deeply upsetting if it is encroached.

In teaching textile design to undergraduates, ‘A 5-step technique for producing ideas’ from the brilliant Brain Pickings blog here provides a great framework for starting discussions into the roll of research, flexible thinking, reflection and persistence in the creative process.  I regularly refer to the ‘Curious Octopus Stage’ which illustrates so beautifully the need to established a rich, multi-faceted context from which a personal response can then grow.

Approaches often encouraged at school which heavily focus on ‘artist research’ as the basis of creative exploration send out all the wrong messages.  It encourages the literal thinker to believe it is alright to see something, adapt it slightly and claim it as theirs.

For someone who back in 2010 developed an innovative process that is original, in the sense that it is a new application (the rebuilding of broken ceramics) of a traditional process (patchwork), it has been a great pleasure to exhibit the work and build a reputation for creating pieces with a highly distinctive aesthetic.  It has been wonderfully rewarding to hear people marvel ‘how did you come up with that idea?”  “I’ve never seen that before‘  ‘It’s not often you see something that is truly original!

There is a rich back story to my work which I love explaining, drawing on a mix of references, themes, interests, cultures, that can be traced way back in stages to my degree show over twenty years ago.  It is this long gestation time; the slow building through different career chapters, creative experiences and explorations, supported by an awareness of contemporary research and practice, that has helped me to discover my voice and have absolute belief in the integrity of what I put into the public realm.  This is also the life-blood that fuels new developments to that journey.

The wonderful musician poet Patti Smith in her Advice for the Young, quotes William Burroughs here and it has become a sort of mantra in our household.  “Build a good name.  Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.”  It is a beautifully articulated lesson in the importance of creative integrity and in striving to live authentically in all areas of your life.
The image to this blog entry was a pleasing bit of improvised communication found recently on my travels.  As ever, I was drawn to the re-purposing of materials and it as an example of creative problem solving.  Written primarily as a warning, I feel it can also provide useful positives to help navigate the challenges of the creative landscape that exists today:

Keep clear head space
Keep clear distinctiveness
Keep clear communications
Keep clear focus