Theorizing Imitation in a Global Context
Despite a growing body of recent work, imitation in art is still commonly confused with copying to the detriment of the many kinds of replication that are thereby negatively compared with notions of originality and authenticity. Limiting imitation to an understanding bounded by a notion of copying demotes the imitation to a subservient role vis-à-vis its model - whether the source is another artwork or nature. It is the act of repetition that confers the quality of originality and authenticity on the model in the first place - a gesture of distinction that serves to establish a hierarchy of value between copy and model and reinforce the perception that all forms of imitation necessarily run counter to the ideas of innovation or emulation. From classical times down to the present the theory and practice of imitation has been central to the construction of art works through repetition, appropriation, replication, quotation, reproduction, citation and reference.
Yet neither is it useful to broaden imitation to encompass the range of art making understood by the term mimesis. To do so is to equate imitation with all forms of representation, with the resulting loss of distinction between copying and imitation. While imitation as a practice takes manifold forms of repetition as a starting point, when examined as a theory imitation reveals important assumptions about what constitutes the work of art and what may be embraced under the rubric of imitation. This series of lectures propose a two-fold aim - first, to offer a global perspective on the question, the better to reveal the ubiquity of practices of citation and reference across cultures. Second, to open up, from within various historical and geographical perspectives, a series of discussions around the idea of imitation as key to questions about, and our understanding of, a multiplicity of modes of representation not all of which can be embraced by the term 'copy.'