We artists are all guilty of some form of theft. However, it’s really not our fault. There are simply no original thoughts. You won’t often see me quote from a religious text. However, the following biblical musing accurately communicates my thoughts on the matter.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
Does that leave any hope for us? We, the starving artists, are looking to make our mark on the world. What are we to do if our “mark” is just another stolen and unoriginal gouge in the face of our craft? I say there is hope, but we must learn to embrace our thieving ways.
Truly great ideas build upon other ideas, which built upon the ideas before them, and so it goes. Here’s the kicker, there is nothing wrong with that! I recently read a book by Austin Kleon entitled “Steal like an Artist.” Austin does an excellent job of explaining why ideas are stolen and why it is a good thing. I strongly recommend his book as an example to artists, writers, and dreamers everywhere. He explains that ideas have a certain genealogy to them. He compares ideas to the birth of human being. We “steal” traits from both of our parents and selfishly use them to create ourselves in their image. We embrace our parents, so we should embrace the parents of our ideas.
Austin does an excellent job of describing the difference between “Good Theft” and “Bad Theft” in his book. Bad theft is plagiarism, as repeated incessantly by every college professor I have ever had. Plagiarism is stealing and passing off an unchanged product as your own work. Austin explains that Good Theft is a matter of drawing on the influences of many and generating an idea that borrows from many sources to create a mixture of your own. Good theft honors the works that it came from and transforms it into a beautiful personal crafting of art from you.
This should come as no surprise to you. We steal. We do it every day, we borrow our ideas from the environment, our family, our values, Mother Culture, and even from the unworthy abyss of modern media. Yet we obsess with trying to prove our originality. We should learn to accept our need to steal and do our sources justice by adding artfully to the previous iterations of an idea in the creation of an amalgamation of our thoughts and ideas.
Why is it considered a sin to embrace your ideas for what they truly are… well-crafted thefts!
Think about some of your recent ideas at work, in your writing or in your art. Do you believe it is truly original or have you come to accept the influences of your experiences on your craft?