Some people may think that art is very simple – they might become experts on the arts and implement various artistic elements in their everyday lives. Nevertheless, arts are connected by various complicated relationships and ties. One of those connections is plagiarism.
How did it happen that the world of art is full of plagiarism, copying, rewriting and borrowing of ideas from other artists?
I assume that it is all caused by the nature of art itself. And this must be the major reason for plagiarism in art.
Initially, during the times of antiquity, mythology was dominating, and it unified religion, history, culture, philosophy and art. Mythology was syncretic and synthetic, and so were the components of it that later became independent. While after the mythology split into art and religion and philosophy turned out to be autonomous, they always tried to unify again. It can be seen in many synthetic works like, for example, those of the Middle Ages, when art was serving religious purposes, or in the Renaissance, when philosophy of the Renaissance epoch served as the background for the intensive development of the arts and slow decay of the religion.
The same process is a peculiar feature of the world of art. Syncretic, unified, single art – as a purely creative desire and habit – during several centuries split into several intermingled streams:
- technical art (including sculpture, architecture and painting)
- and muse art (literature, its genres and the art of eloquence).
Later on, the arts continued fragmentation and separation into smaller streams and crafts, more genres of literature, music, theatre, etc. appeared. The originally singular goddess called Muse turned into three sister muses, and later on into seven goddesses led by Apollo. As all arts had the same origin, they also had specific ties and relationships, like relatives do. The same great-great-great-grandmother art had many descendants who in turn produced many children, thus, during the course of history, literature split into drama, poetry and prose. Poetry developed its own genres, drama formed different theatrical genres, and music separated from poetry and established its own forms. The tree of arts had more and more branches growing in each epoch.
Reasons for plagiarism
1. Need for copying
As all arts had the same original stem and the same original stories, plots and fables, artists tried to re-evaluate them, to rework, rewrite, and reinvestigate them from the perspective of new independent arts. As soon as the new art or genre or artistic approach felt its significance and autonomy, it started reorganising the world around it. On the one hand, the artists discovered new things, pursued new horizons and wrote new plots, stories, and fables. On the other hand, they always referred to the plots and drafts from the original artistic stem source and rewrote them according to the demands and techniques of new genres. The stories were multiplied, copied, and borrowed, and thus added much to the field of plagiarism. This can be called the need for copying – the necessity of arts to fill in the artistic gaps and provide adaptation to the plots that already exist in other arts. In such cases there will be a lot of adaptations within synthetic pairs that developed during the whole history of the arts (music-poetry, poetry-painting, music-architecture, etc.)
2. Inspiration from contemporary arts
As for the second reason for plagiarism, the new works and new topics (if they are more or less successful or interesting, if they have extra potential for adaptations) discovered by new genres will attract attention of the artists working in other genres and arts of the same epoch. Artists will spend time learning the works from contemporary arts and will get inspired for adaptations and copies. Someone will simply write a poem about a phenomenal statue (as many prominent poets did), someone will rediscover the forgotten and almost-lost old drama and rewrite it into a new work, keeping half of the original lines and rhymes. This will also fertilise the plagiarism field and can be called the personal reason of each artist to plagiarise – to learn the works of contemporaries, find something new or long-forgotten and develop it in the manner specific to the given artist who partially copies the original source.
3. Cultural need
The third possible reason for plagiarism in the arts is that of a cultural need. Art history has plenty of masterpieces and genius works of art. One day, they can become outdated and misunderstood or unacceptable for the current culture or generations. Society is not able to forget or ignore them, but it is still not able to accept or understand them in the same way. Then, new explanations or interpretations of the already popular plots and stories are needed. Here, we get new visions of Hamlet on stage (as every century had different types of Hamlets in their theatres, even though they were saying the same lines). Here we have the works of Roman dramatists or Molière, who were eager to rewrite the Ancient Greek dramas and change the concept and dramatic components according to the needs and morals of or Ancien Régime France.
Such plagiarism includes transformation of the stories and their rediscovery, like, for instance, Jorge Luis Borges liked to do: to take a famous story, to look at the plot from another angle and to surprise the reader; half of the text can remain the same, but it will never be accepted or understood in the same way people used to understand it before.
To sum it up, except for personal reasons, when the artists try to experiment with what they have during their lifetime, the plagiarism is caused by:
- the necessity of the arts to fill in the artistic gaps caused by separation of arts and their desire to unify and become syncretic again
- and cultural needs for new morals and new adaptation of the existing masterpieces that are not suitable for the new generations, epochs, societies, and cultures.