Imitation and Art
I am reminded daily that Louis learns by mimicking us. Terrifying thought, naturally.
Who did he pick this one up from?
Sometimes we encourage his imitation. We prompt him to pick up toys, or eat food, or say words, by doing these things in front of him and then giving him opportunities to do the same.
(Right now he is waiting on the couch, a book in hand, ready for me to read a story… be right back.)
Four books later… I don’t turn the pages much anymore – another thing he’s learned by imitation, I suppose. And perhaps the love of books as well.
I’m yet to master getting videos that aren’t on youtube to show up on my blog, but here’s one you can download: Louis having his afternoon tea today, and my attempts to teach him some good (French) manners…
If mimicking us wasn’t enough, he’s quite happy to converse, generous gesticulation included, with the baby in the window…
What does all this stuff about imitation have to do with art? Well, artists imitate. It’s part of the process, and it’s a stage. If I read a book or watch a movie with a unique, strong style, especially if it’s one I love, then I often find myself mimicking that style/voice in my writing.
Stephen King talks about this in ‘On Writing’ and assures me it’s a stage and that the more I write and read, the more I will learn about style without just becoming a mimick. This is reassuring.
I follow Joanne Harris on Twitter and she mentioned watching some of my favourite movies recently. I replied and asked her if she ever found herself echoing those great voices in her writing. She replied, “Not my writing, but I pick up vocal mannerisms very easily.” (That’s right, direct quote from the lady herself. Get it here, hot off twitter feed.)
So we begin by imitating, whether we mean to or not, and perhaps it’s good to do so on purpose sometimes, because then we use stylistic elements intentionally, explicitly. An artist’s apprentice used to have the job of filling in the gaps, painting by numbers almost. They would follow the artists instruction, mimic their style, and paint the easier parts of their works.
As an artist matures they become more independent, more creative, more daring. They learn skills – some explicitly, many implicitly (without intentionally seeking the knowledge/ability or even being aware of it it many cases).
I am finding my style more resilient these days. I’m reading several books with strong stylistic flavours and yet my own writing isn’t taking on any of the obvious traits of these works. A sign of progress, I hope!
In a more conscious way I’m also learning French by imitation. Had another conversation with the friendly lady at the playground. Being pregnant and having a wobbly toddler are great ice-breakers. We mostly speak in French and it’s so encouraging to be understood! And to understand! It’s been four months since we arrived – four months tomorrow. I still had to use google translate to figure out the application for for our CAF number (today’s fun bureaucratic challenge), but I managed most of it without. Hopefully, when Luuk looks over it he doesn’t find a whole lot of errors! He is the better reader, I suspect. Definitely stronger as a listener. I am the stronger speaker… not so different from English in this regard.