Good artists copy, great artists steal. — Pablo Picasso
The first time I learned about this quote, I was quite confused. It is considered immoral and unlawful to steal material goods, how could Picasso say that it is great to steal in the creative disciplines?
The answer I found lies in the subtle implication in the act of copying versus stealing. One can usually produce a replica of an original without wasting any brain power whatsoever; whereas stealing is much harder: it requires careful planning and deft execution. Most important of all, however, one steals only what is valuable and leaves the cruft untouched.
Picasso himself might have stolen the opening quote from his good friend Stravinsky, who said:
Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.It is instructive to compare their choice of words. You can borrow things, even immaterial things like words (in which case you will be plagiarizing). Borrowing an idea means that you let it enter and then leave your brain without any side effects whatever, perhaps due to a lack of understanding. Stealing an idea, on the other hand, means that you have it internalized, that your permanent mental state has changed: the idea is now a part of you.
After understanding those differences, my concern has since become: how do we know what's good to steal?
Instead of an answer, I will present you with yet another quote which could be hypothesized to have inspired both Stravinsky's and Picasso's:
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. — T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood
Eliot's advice is simply to take an idea and make it into something at least different. Obviously everyone of us would like to believe that he is improving on the original, but he can be wrong. Goodness is hard, if not impossible, to measure at the time of creation. So let us try to steal some ideas anyway.
That is what this blog is all about. ■Next Post