Like many fans of his very thoughtful reporting, I was deeply saddened by the fall from grace of Fareed Zakaria last week. The much admired CNN reporter admitted to an act of plagiarism, lifting from a piece by the equally gifted NY Times pundit, Jill Lepore. In my last year of college I was also accused of plagiarism. Although I was innocent – and subsequently confirmed so – I still remember the gut-wrenching anxiety. Was it possible I had inadvertently lifted someone else’s work? When I asked the prof exactly what material was in question, he responded, “Nothing specific but you couldn’t have come up with this new theory on your own.” Fancy that. Still it has left me with a life-long fastidiousness when it comes to referencing sources, as this blog will attest.
The whole debate does however raise a question about the very nature of original creative ideas particularly in this age of wiki sharing. What exists in the public domain, and what is the spark that moves an idea or concept ahead? Where does justice lie in the famous Winklevoss dispute with Mark Zuckerberg?
I went back to see the Picasso exhibit now in its final days at the AGO and it was fascinating to see the urgency of his desire to punch through new thresholds in technique and approach, sometimes moving from one mode to another in a dazzling dance that occured frequently weeks apart. And yet, he did reflect a zeitgeist of which he was just one expression. He lived at a time when the entire artistic frontier in music, architecture as well as visual arts was shifting radically. What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Last week the Wall Street Journal Arts section featured a story entitled “Appalachia in the Himalayas” by Barry Mazor. The article reviewed a new film called the “Mountain Music Project” that reveals some uncanny parallels between indigenous music from Nepal and the Virginia Hills. Several songs were almost interchangeable which has led the film producers to conclude that while it may be coincidental, it is almost as though the mountain air carries a sound that people who live there hear. Now who owns that?