I don’t really think so.
I think it’s fairly easy to tell when flattery is sincere, and sincere flattery is the sincerest form of flattery.
Imitation is much more likely to indicate a lack of self esteem; a space in which you are trying to integrate new ideas in order to build new selfness. Imitation indicates a space. It doesn’t indicate a greater depth of impressment.
There is, of course, room for imitation, but it should probably be better called inspiration, and normally involves enough self poured in to make the homage obvious, whilst still including a pouring of your self into it. That’s creation. Self pouring.
Copying has it’s uses, of course. Re-communicating ideas. Learning skills. Mockery. There’s all sorts that can be done with a replicated face, image, idea, or whatever.
I’m finding it tricky to keep fixed in my head what is being imitated. The phrase could apply to anything. First I think of Damien Hirst’s skull’s paintings, quite cheaply indebted to Francis Bacon. Then I think of stealing dress ideas from friends. Then I think of impressions. Then I think of writing.
In my own work, I have no idea how much I steal or imitate. One of my longer pieces was so fundamentally indebted to Neil Gaiman that it’s probably unpublishable, but then, he doesn’t OWN the Norse gods, or putting them into the real world. And my narrative was different (mostly worse) and my text was different (occasionally better, but not very often). (My dialogue was equally contrived).
It wasn’t flattery. It was just a lack of ideas.
I guess it definitely showed an appreciation. But it was also picking a hole. It was saying ‘sure, that’s a way of doing things, but how about if we tried this…’
So imitation often comes with an accusation of a gap. Would anyone feel the need to copy if they didn’t think they could do it better? That makes it even less sincere, because in fact there’s an implied insult there. Though that depends on your arrogance levels.
More often it’s probably a fear.
If I can copy, then I know I can’t go too wrong. Sure, I’ll be worse than that, but I’ll have something solid to fall back on.
It’s dangerous, to spend too much time in other people’s ideas. I actually even sometimes think that artists shouldn’t spend too much time consuming the art of others. Imitation is too easy. It happens unconsciously, without any form of flattery intended. Things make an impact, that impact is hard to avoid. And potentially dangerous for your creativity/uniquity.
I’m not convinced, but there’s an argument.
And it’s a useful thing to bring to imitation in real (non-artistic) life (if there is such a thing).
Don’t spend all your time staring at other people and trying to imitate their way.
You are you, and your way is your own. If you can’t find yourself, look inside, not outwards.
That way lies contentment.
Which helps with sincerity.
Illustration by Lucy.