August 21, 2012

Kirby Ferguson on Creativity: Nothing is Original, Everything is a Remix. But Does it Really Matter?

Kirby Ferguson made a name for himself with the popular series Everything is a Remix, in which he proposes that everything mankind creates takes inspiration from something that has come before. He gathers a mountain of evidence that backs up this point, and the topics range from simple borrowing to our complex legal system that doesn't acknowledge the derivative nature of creativity. In the TED talk embedded below, Kirby attempts to summarize a lot of his conclusions from the series.

The end of the video explains his thoughts perfectly on creativity:

Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self made, we are dependent on one another. Admitting this to ourselves isn't an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness -- it's a liberation from our misconceptions, and it's an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves, and to simply begin.

His conclusion is intriguing: stop trying to reinvent the wheel and instead build off of everything that has come before. There's no question that all artists (and certainly all individuals who are creative for a living) are influenced by everything around them. In fact, it's often other works that inspire us to create in the first place. If we already borrow so much from our predecessors, he argues, we should stop considering this "stealing." Some of the most successful people are doing this everyday -- they don't worry about whether they are doing something "original," because they, like Kirby, believe that originality doesn't really exist -- we simply rework what already exists in our own way.

Just because you might try to avoid copying someone or something doesn't mean that you are conscious of all of your influences (much like the Bob Dylan song in the video). I know that in my own films I always try to embrace the work that inspires me the most or is the most similar to what I'm doing because it's going to make for a more cohesive movie in the end. Just because I'm influenced by something, doesn't mean I'm going to copy it exactly, because it still goes through the filter of my own mind as well as the filter of the story and the characters that I've created.

Check out the 4-part Everything is a Remix series:

What do you guys think? Do you think we need to reform intellectual property laws to better represent how ideas actually spread? Is it possible to have original work, or is everything truly a remix?

Link: Film School Rejects - Kirby Ferguson TED Talk

Your Comment


This is very good stuff. The problem I have most with screenwriting is struggling to come up with an "original" idea. Just write about what you have experienced and what you know and it will always be authentic.

August 21, 2012 at 8:43PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Things like the Copyright Term Extension Act are disastrous for the public domain, which feeds future creative works.

Shakespeare was one of the greatest remixers.

August 21, 2012 at 8:46PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


'Our creativity comes from without, we are dependent on one-another' So true! Observation is our salvation, be it taste, touch, sight or sound. What we experience through life and the way we remix previous reactions to similar experiences, moulds us into who we become. Life's all about layers and angles from which to view. Imagine where we'd be if those smartphone lawsuits were turned into partnerships!?

August 21, 2012 at 10:02PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


I refuse to watch the's only a remix of what others have already said...there can't possibly be anything new there

August 21, 2012 at 10:15PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Wait, this is news to some people?
Gotta thank my college teacher.

August 22, 2012 at 4:05AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Society today = GREED. Therein lies the problem.

August 22, 2012 at 9:25AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


The point Kirby - righteously - makes doesn't stroke with societies' practice of monopolizing everything (even if temporarily through copyright or patent law). Market societies depend on scarcity rather than abundance. So, even if he's sooo right about this, I fear it will not make a difference. We should only hope that there will not be yet another extension to copyrights. Enough is enough, even for Disney at some point...

August 23, 2012 at 2:51AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Kirby has a useful point, but it's not law. I'm convinced that some inspiration can be derived from an original, spiritual experience-- Beethoven being a good example, imho.

August 23, 2012 at 3:53PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Mr. Ferguson has come to a conclusion certainly that many subscribe to, and to a degree his idea can be observed in the popular culture of American and of course historical artistic expression. Indeed, many of my favorite artists, whether they be musicians, filmmakers, or otherwise seek only to make their own small place in the world of art without heed to the idea of coming up with the next new idea.

I would advise however that those of us wishing to be artists must seriously consider when taking our first steps into the world of artistic expression whether each of us is capable of rendering something truly unheard of, or simply utilizing what is to say something that is not, which I believe is the at the heart of the "art is remixed" ideology. It is with this definition that I believe good art is indeed original, that remixing, when it is done well, is simply using what has come before to say something that was not present originally.

When I typically discuss this concept however, I do usually direct others away from the practice of claiming unoriginality of older art. Which is to say, I don't buy anyone who says Miles Davis did not render unto the earth something totally and unequivocally new, and to then further apply that mentality to the works of say Walt Whitman, or Claude Debussy I think is unfair. Especially Debussy, he created an enigmatic scale for some of his works, I think he can safely say he did something no one else had before.

August 23, 2012 at 10:56PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Does this applies only in music or in everything?

November 15, 2012 at 2:17PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


try saying all this to Black Blues musicians, and see their pushback. Try saying they riff on white man's music, say jazz, see how far you get. Try saying that to Cubano musicians. Frankly, I see plenty of remixes when doors are open and most is deadly mediocre. Sub mediocre. Failures. The fantasy is that if people riff on other's hard won art, that there will be oh so wonderful 'mixes.' That's illogic but apparently a fond fantasy for some. One would never build a stable art on the old foundations without knowing structure. Tacking a red splotch onto a work of art, does not make the second effort 'art.' It makes it a red splotch on top of a work of art. Teach the young that there is nothing new under the sun, and you create a derivative nation that does not comprehend the idea of breathtaking inspiration that comes to one as a lightning strike... all at once, ideas that rush through that are greater than the person thinking them. Also, if one wanted to truly make a dent in the world of greed, let's hear you stand up for remix of big Pharma patents, you know the ones that literally steal life giving medicines from the poor by squatting on their patents, and when they come up for renewal, changing one ingredient only, so as to nail down another long patent. Art, music, writing? Small potatoes. Why not start with the huge crimes against humanity re medical patents. i hear silence.

June 29, 2014 at 5:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM