Does Originality Really Matter?

By Gail Sirna

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in spring 2010. 

The 2010 NAN Assembly, and its concurrent Exemplary are pleasant memories now; but going through The Exemplary triggered some thoughts which I would like to share. First of all, our show is really, truly excellent. There was not one piece in the show undeserving of a ribbon-which makes the judges’ job very challenging, to say the least. Everything was beautifully stitched and well presented. Almost everything was a really good design, and so well executed. But not everything was “original.”

So, should that matter? I often hear people apologize for not being able to design or claiming that they can’t draw. I hear it all the time when I’m teaching. Students are practically begging me not to have them make a decision on anything. And those of us who do design get the kudos, that’s for sure. I acknowledge it, and admittedly enjoy it. BUT . . .no one should be apologizing for not doing her own designs. There is inherent pleasure in stitching, just the act itself is calming, and relaxing, and gives the embroiderer a sense of accomplishment, of making something beautiful. If this were not true, then needlework would not have endured as such a popular avocation after the invention of the sewing machine-but it has. Even when women sewed by necessity, there were still wealthy women who could hire someone else to do their sewing, but these women often still did their own fancywork.

I think this analogy has been made before in these pages, but I liken needlework to music. Music has composers and musicians. No one would ever look down upon a great pianist or violinist or cellist because he did not compose the music he plays. Just think of Van Cliburn or Itzak Perlman or Yo Yo Ma; they are lionized around the globe. Indeed, we revere a well-executed performance by a talented musician, with little regard to whether he composed the music. Except for some rock musicians, most performers do not do the composing; they just entrance us with their performance. In fact, sometimes there is also a middleman in there, the arranger, or in the case of orchestras, the conductor. No one regards those individuals with contempt either. We appreciate their contribution to the final performance.

And so, our embroidery is quite similar. There are the designers, who are analogous to the composers. And there are the stitchers who can be likened to the musicians, executing a wonderful design with great virtuosity. Is that performer, the stitcher, any less worthy than the much-heralded musician? I think not.

So, no apologies, no disclaimers, no reproaches because you have not designed the piece you have lovingly stitched. You, wonderful stitchers, bring joy to visitors in whatever the exhibition with which you share your artworks. You bring gratification to your teachers when they see one of their designs splendidly interpreted, or spectacularly executed. And you bring acclaim upon yourself for your beautiful embroidery. So, stop worrying about “original” and be proud of what you do. You deserve it.