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The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Marc Quinn: artist or plagiarist?

For many years, I have known something about Marc Quinn that others seem not to have noticed. The reason I know it, is because Marc Quinn was at the same Cambridge College – Robinson – as I was. We have, therefore, an overlap of social circles and personal contacts. Thus, word of my life and my thought, could have seeped very readily into his. In terms of degrees of separation: my acquaintances at Cambridge University would have known him directly. This is not much separation at all. Anything I said could easily have got back to him, even though I was never personally introduced to him.

I have just become aware of something darkly funny. Well, it is darkly funny if you know what I know about Marc Quinn. Mr. Quinn has recently been complaining that his work has been plagiarized by Swiss fashion house, Akris. Apparently, their designer, Albert Kreimler, strolled into the White Cube gallery where Marc Quinn’s flower paintings were on show – and felt himself so “inspired” by them, that he copied them directly and made clothes out of the designs.

Now, I have seen the clothes and I must say that they do look the same as the paintings, in places. He has basically imprinted Marc Quinn’s paintings onto cloth and called it “his” design.

So, this seems like a very clear case of plagiarism. Marc Quinn is rightfully riled by this. He was quoted as saying: “To take someone’s copyrighted material and turn it into a commercial product without permission is unacceptable. It is damaging to my ability to use my own images to make clothing. It is destroying potential in the future. If someone is inspired by my work and they go and do something completely different that is fine. If they take an image directly, it is not fine.”

My reaction to this statement of Marc Quinn’s might not be the same as yours. You see, I find it darkly funny. You may be wondering why I, who have, in the past, spoken out strongly against plagiarism should find Marc Quinn’s suffering darkly funny. Well, I have a very good reason: I have reason to believe that Marc Quinn is not the original thinker he would like his audience to think him. In fact, I have much reason to believe that he may very well be a plagiarist – though one who has thus far escaped public attention for his tendencies. We shall examine the reasons for my belief here and that will allow you to assess how probable it is that my belief about him, is true.

Many years ago, when I was at Cambridge University,very early on in my career there – probably my first year, which would have been 1986, I submitted my creative written works to Sylvia, the editor of the Bin Brook magazine, at Robinson College. The Bin Brook was the College magazine.

Sylvia had asked me to come around with my works to discuss them with her. I duly brought many works with me – in their original handwritten copies. I talked quite freely with her about my work for quite some time. There were several other people listening in her set of rooms, none of whom had been introduced to me. Sylvia was in her final year at Robinson College – and so those present were not familiar to me, being older and from the upper reaches of the College, in terms of time spent there. There were several males present, though. They were listening intently as I spoke.

At that time, I was quite naïve about people. I didn’t then know the basic principle that, unless an idea is strictly protected, it will be stolen the instant it is spoken of or written of, in public. This is something that happens every time an idea is shared – and is a principle I have learnt through real life experience of it in action.

I spoke a bit unwisely in that room. Firstly, I spoke of a story that I wished to submit, entitled “Smoguey the Sorcerer”. This story concerned a Wizard who had invented a device that could see a few minutes into the future. The punchline of the story was that the device foresaw his own death – the first time he tried it – and there was nothing he could do about it (I would need a copy of the story to give the full details). Now the most interesting part about the story was its origin. I explained to her that the story was based upon a drawing I had done, in which a wizard is looking into a mirror that foretells the future and sees in it, himself, dead, a few minutes hence. I explained that I had taken that image and transformed it into a different medium – the written short story. It was the same idea, represented in two different art forms.

Very oddly, several years later, I remember seeing a newspaper article about a “Marc Quinn” art work that had been entered for a competition, in which his art work consists of a written explanation of the transformation of creative works from one medium into another. He had basically, it seemed, written down my conversation and description of how I had composed that story and made it into “his” artwork. (At least I remember it as being called a Marc Quinn work).

That was somewhat annoying to see, for I knew, for certain, that the idea in that conceptual artwork had been voiced, on my tongue, in front of several unknown witnesses from my College (and Marc Quinn’s College), several years before.

I also told Sylvia of a poem that I would have liked to submit, but which I had left at home. The poem concerned a Vampire’s view of Humanity, in which I described the Vampire as seeing humans as being “heads filled with blood”. This wasn’t metaphorical – in my poetic world, the Vampire actually, physically SAW them as “heads filled with blood”.

Now, you should recall that Marc Quinn’s most famous work is that of “Self”, which is a self-portrait consisting of a, you guessed it, “head filled with blood”. It is Marc Quinn’s blood. However, it is NOT Marc Quinn’s idea. That idea came to me, by 1986 at the latest – and was communicated to everyone in that room, that day, in the same College as Marc Quinn. Marc Quinn’s most famous work, is not original. Marc Quinn did not have that idea, first – I did.
I do not know whether Marc Quinn was present in that set of rooms that day. No-one else was introduced. However, I do not need to know whether he was. The social distance between anyone in that room and Marc Quinn was most probably zero: they would all have known him, since they were old enough to overlap with his presence at Robinson College. Thus the distance between my words and Quinn, was just a simple conversation away – and that is the most distant Marc Quinn could have been from me that day. He might even have been present for all I know.

The way I think of it, is that it does not seem at all likely that Marc Quinn could independently come up with the same idea, when, in fact, both of us were at the same College and I had publicly discussed the idea of heads filled with blood, years before Marc Quinn actually made one in 1991. Occam’s Razor would suggest that the simplest explanation is that he heard what I said, directly or indirectly, that day – and registered the image as interesting and worth pursuing as a work of Art, in the future, when he could get around to it. The notion that TWO people at the SAME College, would INDEPENDENTLY come up with the SAME idea, without being aware of the prior work of the other, strikes me as absolute nonsense and unlikely in the extreme. It is far more likely that Marc Quinn is being derivative of my poem, than that he came up with it himself and it just so happened that it is the same idea.

There is an irony here, of course. I had discussed publicly how I had turned my drawing into a story. Then I mentioned my poem with its image of blood heads – and Marc Quinn, it very much seems, on hearing my words, or learning of them, reversed the procedure, and turned my poem into a work of Art.

Knowing what I do of that day I discussed my ideas too openly, I cannot believe in the idea of Marc Quinn as an original creative person. Two of the ideas I discussed, publicly, became early works of Marc Quinn: now how likely is that to have happened independently? Not very likely at all.

Then again, one should consider an interview Marc Quinn gave to a Cambridge magazine about ten years ago. In that, he said he was grateful that he had attended Cambridge because it “gave him ideas”. I bet it did. What he didn’t say is on whose lips those ideas were first heard. It is noticeable that as Marc Quinn’s career has progressed and he has moved away from his Cambridge years, he has become, in my view, much less creative. His works of recent years involve no real creativity, in my understanding of what creativity is. This, in itself, is good circumstantial evidence that his early works – which shone with creativity – were, perhaps, borrowed from more creative minds than his own. If not, why the definite decline in his creative work? I know he is older…but he is not that much older. If he was truly the originator of his early creative works, surely he would still show much of the same creative power? He doesn’t. However, I do remember the day I discussed and disclosed key ideas, later found in Marc Quinn’s work. I see no real explanation of this other than the simplest one: the blood head did not originate in Marc Quinn’s own mind, for it had been spoken of five years before, by me. The work about transformation also did not originate in Marc Quinn’s mind. The question now, is: if Marc Quinn appropriated ideas he heard at Robinson College, which originated in my own unguarded conversation – did his other works come from conversations with others? Which, if any of Marc Quinn’s works, truly originate in his own unaided mind? Are ALL his works “inspired” by others?

I ask this question for a reason. Truly creative people, habitually conceive of their own ideas, unaided by others: they look within, not without. They do not need others to feed on. However, those who call themselves creative, but who are much less so, than the former type, sometimes depend on “inspiration” from others. In these cases, they habitually pick ideas from the brains of others, tinker with them a little, then call them “their” own works. This breed of people really see themselves as creative. They do not understand that what they do is inherently derivative and dependent on the thinking of others. In my experience, the two types are distinct. Truly creative people would not only never need inspiration from others – they would also not take ideas from others: they would respect the ownership and origin of the ideas.

Which type is Marc Quinn: the true creative or the type who is always being “inspired” by others? If he is the true creative type then he must explain why I spoke of his core early ideas at least five years before they appeared in his works. Also if he is a true creative, he must explain why he appears much less creative now, than he did early on. If he is the type who is always “inspired” by others…then why is making such a fuss over the “inspiration” of Albert Kreimler of Akris? If his blood head originated in my speaking of it, five years before he made one…then is he not guilty of doing exactly the same thing that Albert Kreimler of Akris did?

I have held back from speaking of my recognition of Marc Quinn’s “Self” work, as being derived from my vampire poem, for many years. However, I have come to realize that I am harming myself by not speaking of it. It is not fair to me, to keep silent. Whatever the origin of the “Self” blood heads, it is clear that Marc Quinn did not get to the idea first: I did…by five years, at least. I also spoke of it in the same College as him, within easy social distance of himself. That is something that really needs explaining.

I was moved to write, finally, of this, by seeing Marc Quinn make such a fuss over Akris’ plagiarism of his work. Now, I know that Marc Quinn knows how it feels to be plagiarized. It is time, though, that people realized that perhaps Mr. Marc Quinn, too, has plagiarized work in the past. Indeed, it is not safe to think that his most iconic work: Self, is, in fact, his own idea. No-one who knew of my conversation that day, about my work, could possibly think that, if they were being reasonable.

Yet, even as I write this, I know that very few people will ever get to read this post and to come to the understanding that the origin of Marc Quinn’s early works needs to be questioned. So, I write knowing that it will do little to open people’s eyes. However, it is important that I make this statement, because to fail to do so, is to cheat myself. It should be known that the same ideas Marc Quinn used, were voiced by me, many years before he used them.

I don’t know Marc Quinn personally. I don’t know what he is like or whether he is a reasonable person, in any way. However, if he ever gets to hear of my concerns, here, I would invite him to reflect: how would he feel, if his own ideas, ended up in the works of another, who gained 100% credit for them, even though those ideas had been conceived of, by him, many years before (but publicly discussed). Recall that those ideas had been embodied in copyrighted works – all of them. Surely he would feel a bit like he does over the Akris affair. Well, imagine then how I felt to see the blood heads, from my poem, made into “Self”. It was a strange, saddening experience, for I knew that I had conceived that vision long before Marc Quinn made it physical.

Perhaps Mr. Marc Quinn should reflect on his own words and take his own advice: “To take someone’s copyrighted material and turn it into a commercial product without permission is unacceptable.”

Well, I didn’t give Marc Quinn permission to make use of my copyrighted material, in any way. Yet, inexplicably, my prior work, echoes his later work. Please explain that Mr. Marc Quinn.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:50 PM 

4 Comments:

Blogger Paranoid Mutant said...

This is really interesting. I didn't know who Mr. Quinn was so I googled him. I saw a picture of "Self" and it's really impressive, specially knowing it was made with his own blood. However, it stops being impressive when you read maybe it wasn't really his idea.

What do you think Mr. Quinn would say to defend himself in this case?

If he used one of your ideas and it can be proven, is there something that can be done about it?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi PM,

I don't know what Marc Quinn is like or what tack he would take to defend himself. Would he lie? I don't know.

The problem with the situation is that it depends on whether anyone in that room would come forward to say they heard and remembered the conversation - and that is 25 years ago. I had reason to remember it because I was discussing my work: but would anyone else? I am not sure. Would Sylvia be able to remember it? I don't know her mental capacities well enough: does she have a strong enough memory to remember it? I have no idea.

However, the facts are what they are. I discussed my works in just the way described and outlined core ideas later used by Marc Quinn.

There is one way of course to help examine this: lie detectors. We could challenge Marc Quinn to a lie detector - including the new ones based on fMRI (under research)...you see I am telling the truth and if he says otherwise, he would be lying. I would be more than happy to undergo lie detection on this one...but would Marc Quinn be so happy about it?

I don't know the law well, so I don't know what remedy I might have under it. I suppose it is possible he could be sued. That is worth considering for the future.

Thanks for your post. How have you been?

2:06 PM  
Blogger Paranoid Mutant said...

I hope there's something that can be done. It's not fair that he should get credit for something that wasn't his idea. It's even worse that he got offended by someone plagiarizing his work when he himself has done it before.

I've been doing good. The trimestral exams are coming and I'm trying to practice enough so I can make a good painting.

Casandra

1:45 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is funny that he should react the way he did to Akris' imitation. However, I saw Damien Hirst react in a similar way, early on to an advertising agency's plagiarism.

We shall see if anything can be done.

Good luck with your exams and painting, Casandra

12:56 PM  

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