I just stumbled on the blog of Emulatio, a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame. He extols the virtue of "emulation" in contrast to imitation. In his own words:
"EMULATION is a word that sums up our culture's missing link with the beauty of the past: neither humble imitation nor adventurous invention (although both have their place), emulatio means a competitive desire to equal or surpass previous achievements on their own terms. If there is an understanding of the past for which popular caricatures of servile imitators or romantic "creators" ill-prepare us, it is this, and laying out how we can recover its balance of respect and aspiration will be a lot of what I aim to address. I hope you'll find it rewarding reading."
I'm not so sure imitation is quite so "humble."