The old proverb, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” is only half true. Imitation of an adult by a child, of an older writer by a younger writer, of one nation by another, grows out of something deeper than the desire to flatter. Imitation takes place when one person or institution accepts the philosophy, style, aims, or attitudes of another. That one imitates another reveals that the two have some deeper common basis that may not be readily apparent even to a critical observer.
Imitation is also the basis of art. Twenty-three centuries ago Aristotle defined poetry (by which he meant also drama and music) as “the imitation of an action.…” No matter how “original” or “creative” the author or composer may be, he must work with the materials given in life—that is, he can do nothing but imitate reality. He may emphasize, he may distort, he may offer a fantastically “new” point of view; he may utilize the contents of the subconscious or even the hallucinations of the alcoholic or drug addict; but like everyone else, he must work with reality. Therefore, no matter how far he may extend the situations of life by his imagination, the author-composer imitates life. And thus, historically, the creative person (the writer, composer, painter) has affirmed reality.
Nations have always recognized that the affirmation and continuance of their national life resides in their thinkers, and that they owe their freedom and dominance to their creative thinkers and leaders in all fields. The enemies of the human spirit have always recognized this, too. The Assyrians and Babylonians took into exile the thinkers and leaders of ancient Israel and other conquered states. Hitler systematically murdered Jewish intellectuals, while the Jewish ...1
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