When I was quite young there was a movie that came on the television that starred a very pretty lady (who was very mysterious) and Jimmy Stewart (the leading man). I recognized him from other movies I liked. I didn’t know the name of the movie but it was about a lady who had a little shop that must have been pretty busy because I remember the little bell over the door rang a lot. And there was a black cat named Pyewacket. When I grew up, I found a black kitten in the parking lot of the grocery store one night, during a thunder storm, after several unsuccessful attempts at finding which house he belonged to, I took him home with me. He ended up staying and I named him Pyewacket.
Over the years, as I grew up, I came to be a fan of old (aka: classic) movies so I found out that the movie was “Bell, Book & Candle” and that it starred James Stewart and the pretty lady was Kim Novack and it was released in 1953 which was two years before I was born. So, as an older teen, I watched it for the first time. The importance of this will become apparent later on.
In my 30’s, I had an occasion to meet a talented painter who I grew very fond of. At one point, he brought a painting in to a juried show we were hosting. The painting was probably five or six foot high and three foot wide. The subject matter was the most perfect looking slice of cherry pie. The golden crust appeared tender and flaky as tiny bits flew into the air under the pressure of the fork cutting into it. The cherries were juicy and richly red. It was amazingly painted. And it bothered me. I had the very uncomfortable feeling that I’d seen this before. I brought it to the attention of a colleague. She agreed and had the exact same feeling I did. However, she knew where she’d seen it. And the next day, she came in with an old, women’s magazine and showed him the two page spread advertising a popular-in-the-day cooking product that we no longer use. The pie photo was almost exactly the same as the painted image.
He was aghast! His face went white, he stuttered and stammered (I’m a pretty good judge of body language and expression and unless he was a consummate actor, he really didn’t remember ever seeing that photograph) yet at some time, he must have. Still, in moments when I was alone, I was sure I’d been duped and that he did, indeed, plagiarize that old advertising picture thinking no one would know. But then I would be torn because he looked so sincere when we confronted him. We may never know…but I still lean toward his innocence.
During this same few years, I had this idea for an incredible painting. I could see it in my mind so clearly. It was going to be my masterpiece! I wanted to paint it on a firm surface, so I could drill tiny holes into the surface in strategic places to put tiny Christmas lights so that I could light it from behind and have an amazing night sky with realistic looking stars.
Logistics and figuring out weight, size, hanging material, wall size, likelihood for hanging, etc. all played in and I spent a long time trying to plan it all out so that if we moved, it wouldn’t matter. I tried to plan for any future changes that I could think of. Finances are usually a little tight for me, so I am always trying to make sure I’m not wasting money if I don’t need to. After years of thought and planning, I finally had the details figured out and it was just a matter of amassing the supplies…
Then, while I was in town, I stopped into the video rental store, and there in front was “Bell, Book and Candle” which I hadn’t seen in at least 25 years! Wow! How cool was that!?!?!? I had an entire afternoon all to myself so I could watch it again. I took it home, made some Kool Aid, popped some popcorn, got into my jammies (one needs to be comfy and ready after all) and sat down and clicked the “play” button on the remote.
The movie began to play
within the first three minutes of the movie….
in the background of the beginning scene…..
I grabbed the remote. Hit the stop button. Rewound. Hit play. Watched my painting go by again. Repeated this about 10-15 times then hit slow motion until I could watch it advance frame by frame. Oh…my….gosh!!! It is on the screen for maybe 3-6 seconds and all those years ago, when I was a child, I must have looked up at just the right moment to see that flash before my eyes and get imbedded in my brain without any conscious memory of it being there or where it came from. I showed everybody who would watch it until I had to return the movie to the rental store. Needless to say two things…no, three things, came out of that experience.
- I never painted that painting…it seemed kind of pointless since it already existed in a form very close to what I was planning on doing.
- I believe that fellow years ago was just as innocent of plagiarism as I was/ would’ve been.
- That no matter how careful we might think we are being, it may not be possible to ever totally conceive of anything that is truly “original”. Because even when we don’t know it, we are influenced by things we aren’t aware we even saw.