Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I signed up for the 30 day RWE writing challenge, but have been remiss on acting on the daily prompts. Today’s resonated with me however.

I was listening to a great book on my drive in to work again, Nonviolent Communication. I have taken to listening it it any time I suspect I’m going to have a difficult conversation. The book describes a technique that was developed to deal with conflict situations, such as those we see too often in the middle east. It engenders conversation focused on expressing needs without demands or blaming, which can lead to defensiveness. That morning, I ended up hearing a section in which he describes how to make yourself miserable. He recommends comparing yourself to supermodels in looks, and in accomplishments to people like Mozart who composed symphonies at age 5.

To imitate is to see something and decide you would rather model that you see than value your own self. It is born out of a painful uncertainty and lack of trust in yourself. It is self-immolating. It is you telling yourself “I have seen better than you can ever create, don’t bother.”

When I studied painting so many years ago, we were instructed to go to museums, select a great work and make a copy. It is part of an artist’s formal education. As you follow each stroke of the master, are you destroying your self? Not at all, you are learning to see as they see, move as they move. It is a path to mastery. If at the end you look at your copy, note the differences and sigh, I’ll never be that good, then you have missed the purpose: to be taught, not to imitate.

You cannot be Renoir or Picasso. You could be the greatest forger in the world, but that has a unique notoriety. You have your pride in deception, not the pain of living in the shadow of greatness.

If imitation is suicide, then comparison is the razor.

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    tess lispi

    What a pleasure to read your writing. I like how you weave together the concept of the book, the state of humanity and your painting studies. The complexity appeals to me as well as the sentiment. I grew up with a father who stopped painting because he could never be a Renoir or Picasso. How could he be, he had different things to say and lived in different times.

    Today I am taking off from work (where I play with systems, process and methodology as well as research new ways of working for our UX team). The main goal today is to paint and draw (a vital part of me that could never stop at being Renoir or Picasso). And somehow as I drew, the thought of seeing what was going on at elegant hack brought me here – to your good story.
    Back to drawing.

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