A little bit about plagiarism and arts

Недавно меня попросили дать интервью для Unplag.com, онлайн ресурс для проверки текстов на плагиат. Мне задали много любопытных вопросов по поводу интермедиальности и плагиата в искусстве. Ниже вы найдёте полный текст беседы на английском, оригиналы интервью находятся  здесь and здесь.

Interview with Mykyta Isagulov, Author of Art of Plagiarism

Today, we publish the first part of the conversation with Mykyta Isagulov, author of Art of Plagiarism. In his book, Mykyta explores a plagiarism problem in the arts from antiquity to the neo-modern period, arguing that “copying makes the world of art brighter and more intensified.” This amazing book can help you discover the most prominent cases of copying and adaptation in the arts, and unveil new perspectives on plagiarism and art in general.
Mykyta took some time to share why he wrote the book, its main message, intermediality as a driving force of art evolution, and his personal attitude toward plagiarism.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background. How did you become involved with plagiarism in art?
To be honest, plagiarism has never been my major interest until I started my master’s degree studies. All of my annual papers, as well as bachelor’s thesis, were purely linguistic studies, but, actually, words, morphemes, word-combinations, text concepts, semantic cores, grammar exceptions did not interest me greatly. Probably, that was the main reason why I decided to be involved more with literature studies while pursuing the MA degree at the university.
It took me one year to search for samples of plagiarism or copying, to check them again and again, and group them into specific types. Actually, that was the idea of my scientific adviser, to start researching the topic of plagiarism and intermediality in the arts.

Briefly, what led you up to sit down and actually write this book?
Well, I graduated from the university with a first-class degree and had a really nice job. I have always been fond of writing – essays, short stories, novelettes – and I always dreamt of writing a proper book. I gathered a lot of information for my MA thesis and wanted to make a book out of it. It took me another winter to write a draft of the book on plagiarism in arts, edit it, check all the names and dates. I just wanted to share my knowledge and all the information that I’d been gathering for several years together with researchers, art connoisseurs, and other people. You can call it scientific egoism, or willingness to be useful to society.

Please describe what the book is about in one sentence.
Art is everywhere around us, and the number of plots, stories, and topics is limited to a certain extent, and therefore the whole history of arts is the history of plagiarism, subconscious copying, and conscious adaptations of the works of other artists.

Is there a main message in your book that you hope readers will grasp?
Most writers just write in order to get rid of information and ideas that got stuck in their heads. I have never thought about it in that way. I guess that I just wanted to share the following message with the prospective readership: Everyone can be involved in art, but one should know the specific laws of the world of art.
Such rules and laws should be either followed, or broken – to create the new masterpieces out of all the millions of interpretations and sub-versions developed by the previous generations of artists. Being a master of literature, sculpture, painting, music or any other art is a very hard task. Art hides deep and complicated concepts behind itself, even if one thinks that a piece of art is something simple, he or she might be seriously mistaken. To crack the code, to decipher the message of every artwork a reader, observer or listener has to consolidate a lot of knowledge and think of the epoch when the work was done and know some personal things about the artist-creator.

In your book, you differentiate between intermediality and plagiarism. What is the difference and interrelation between these two notions?
Not so many people know about intermediality. Using the dry scientific definitions, plagiarism is purely a fact of conscious stealing of someone’s work and presenting this work as your own. Plagiarism can and should be punished by international and national laws.
However, the history of the arts does not have that many obvious cases of plagiarism, thus, we can trace the presence of intermediality, which in its form is an artistic phenomenon, a synthesis of arts, fusion of arts, combining arts into one piece of art. Plagiarism is an artistic theft, while intermediality enriches the arts and cannot be punished in judicial terms.
Intermediality, in fact, has various forms and types, thus, for instance, the fact of describing a painting in the literary work is intermediality case (e.g. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890), Michelangelo’s dedication of his poems to his own sculptures and their poetic description belongs to the same phenomenon. The same refers to music-literature, dance-music, painting-theatre and any other combination, when the means of one art are used in the piece belonging to another art. I think in this case any work of art can be analysed in terms of artistic copying or intermedial relations. Such analysis can also bring out some interesting and unexpected results.

According to your book the continual formula for success in the arts is: copy + change the source + unveil something new. Can you comment on this please?
Wow, I did not think that someone would make that kind of conclusion. However, I cannot disagree with the formula. As soon as the artist (inexperienced or renowned master of his art) takes one of the already existing sources, presents the story from a new perspective (using the principles of his age, society, culture, personal beliefs) and unveils something new, it is not necessary for him or her to copy.
The artists only should be looking for the new adaptations of the already existing topics, and believe me, it is not an easy task to take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1591-95 (or I should rather say, Luigi da Porto’s adaptation of an Italian tale, 1530) and rewrite it in such a way, that the new piece of literature overshadows the original source and the established archetype of young lovers. There were artists who actually managed to present the world-known stories in such a way that the new versions and perspectives were of the same brightness and importance as the original sources. Just compare the Ancient Greek myth about Theseus and Ariadne’s thread with Jorge Luis Borges’s The House of Asterion, 1947, or Homer’s Odyssey with Virgil’s Aeneid and James Joyce’s Ulysses, 1922. Out of the three latter works I can hardly choose the best or the most important for the literary art, even though all three are based on the same type of literary character (Odysseus, a wanderer) and use the same travelling topic. 
Even though it is a hard task, sometimes it is much easier to partially copy an already existing story, bring something new into it or discover something new in it than just try to write, compose or paint something extraordinarily new over and over again, something that will attract the reader, observer or listener. Alternatively, think about any commercially successful story. As soon as an artist creates an artwork that becomes a bestseller, they will launch the process of copying and adapting the work to other arts – and the franchise will include music, paintings, crafts, novels and fanfics, etc. Remember Winnie-the-Pooh and what happened after Disney purchased the rights on the teddy-bear character? Now various merchandise products based on a primarily literary character and its animated story bring Disney Company up to 5 billion dollars annually! The animated series turned out to be a very successful copying of the story, changing the source and unveiling something new in it.

Do you think the development in art could have been possible without intermediality?
I tried to show it in my research, my books and articles. The whole history of the arts has plenty of cases of intermediality. They are very interesting cases and very boring cases, easy and complicated. Sometimes you can only guess about the true source that has been used by an artist (like in the Romeo and Juliet case, when there were several potential sources that Shakespeare could have used, in fact), in some cases there is only one-to-one correlation between the works of art. This way or another, the more you dig into intermedial processes in the arts, the more you will become aware that without copying and adapting the stories and plots from other arts (i.e. intermediality) there will be no variety of the works of art. There will be only one Ulysses (of Homer), one Siegfried (of The Song of the Nibelungs), one Thor (of Scandinavian sagas) and definitely no any other works dealing with this plot, story, character or any similar details – no James Joyce’s Ulysses and famous Bloomsday festival in Dublin, no Richard Wagner’s operas The Ring of the Nibelung, no spectacular films like Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Without a doubt, art would never be the same if no artist were allowed to copy, adapt, transform, rework and re-establish the works and ideas of fellow artists. In this case intermediality facilitates the variety of forms, techniques and approaches in the arts.

Given that you have analysed the plagiarism problem from antiquity to neo-modern times, do you think the percentage of plagiarism in art grows over time? If so, why?
It’s a very good question. Just think about Ancient Greece. Homer has composed his Iliad and presented the whole bunch of myths and plots, grouping them around one single event – the Trojan War. He established certain plots, characters, relations that, most likely, have never been “written down” before and existed as some separated myths. As soon as Homer’s work was declared the masterpiece of his epoch, other artists used it as their inspiration – they carved marble sculptures of the characters, painted the scenes on canvas and on the vases, other writers also got their inspiration and either wrote stories similar to Iliad (minor Iliads) or developed some episodes from Homer’s Iliad into separate literary works. Then think about what we have now. Not all the works survived, but any good book on literature, painting, music, sculpture and architecture will probably mention a dozen of famous works based on Iliad, on its original version or on any of its various adaptations and copies.
Every generation of artists – writers and painters, sculptors, composers – brings new ideas, new copies, new intermediality and new plagiarism, when someone is not sure of the origins of his/her ideas and presents them as the result of purely his/her creative abilities. Every year brings more unconscious copying (intermediality) and more conscious copying (plagiarism) into our lives.

Generally, the word plagiarism has a negative connotation. At the end of your book you reach a conclusion that “copying makes the world of art brighter and more intensified.” Why is plagiarism “the moving force of the arts development”?
For me, plagiarism is a purely ethical problem, and I cannot limit the notion only to the cases brought to court or those that raised scandals. It is hard to describe plagiarism and prove that the work was consciously stolen. At the same time you can take the well-known names and write an absolutely different story, and then the lawyer knocks at your door and invites you to court for copyright infringement – as you have bitten off a piece of expensive cake bringing a lot of money to its owner. Sometimes such limitations can cause serious problems to a “plagiarist,” however, I think there should be no limitations in the creative process. Quite often the artists themselves cannot explain why they did that and why they chose that story and picked those names – that happened for various reason, and it requires time to find them out and understand. If we get stuck in judicial processes, we won’t be writing, painting or composing anymore – we’ll simply be afraid of the courts and lawyers. If art and creative processes are not limited to anything, copying and intermedial adaptation enrich the world of art.
Plagiarism pushes the artists to search for new ways, methods, techniques, new borders and limitations that might be broken and extended by future generations of artists.

What is your personal attitude toward plagiarism?
I don’t like people who steal the labour and ideas of others. I assume that it’s always easier to copy something that fits in perfectly well, but is it so difficult to credit the one who did all the work for you and spent many nights and days writing, checking, and rewriting? It makes me very sad to discover that some young researchers use long passages from my thesis and books and never quote or credit them. This makes me furious. You won’t be breaking a single rule or undermine the importance of your own work by crediting the original researcher, otherwise the plagiaristic approach will just put your whole work at risk and, maybe ten or twenty years later, you’ll have a lot of problems when your plagiarism is revealed.

What is the best piece of writing advice you can give to young writers?
I guess there are many. Don’t plagiarize; don’t listen to anyone who says you should not write this or that; don’t follow the rules. Write as much as you can, read the works of as many authors as you can, travel and get inspired by as many places as possible, join other cultures in every possible way – and sooner or later you will establish your own style, develop your own form and write your first masterpiece, which sooner or later will be followed by another one – in case you continue your search for an ideal plot, ideal story, ideal characters and ideal setting. Enjoy your lifestyle and experiment with your writing – and one day you’ll turn into a new James Joyce or J.D. Salinger.