Art is Theft

This is the first of two posts about the importance of attribution, acknowledgement and more. This post focuses on art, the next one will focus on work.

‘Art is Theft’ Pablo Picasso

‘Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’ Jim Jarmusch

‘You don’t sell ideas, ideas are for stealing’. Malcolm McLaren

‘Nothing is original. Steal with pride and acknowledge your inspiration.’ Yours truly, stealing from Pablo Picasso, Jim Jarmusch, Malcolm McLaren, and no doubt, a few others besides.

There’s a widely held notion in the arts world that the theft of ideas is inevitable, and to some extent, even acceptable.

Inspired By

Girl On A BeachI know from my own experience how it feels to be inspired by the work of others. I painted this picture after visiting the Museo Picasso in Malaga, and subsequently, several people have commented that it is Picasso-esque. Although this is an original work, it’s not hard to see where I took my inspiration from, and that taking of inspiration from others, is part of what makes art, art.

Copied From

Here’s another of my sketches. This time, what you can see is a copy of someone else’s work, specifically the pattern on our kitchen curtains. When I blogged this picture on my art website, I made this clear in the accompanying text and linked to the original design.

Curtains Pattern

When you are inspired by something – it can be helpful to acknowledge that inspiration, and when you copy something, I think it really matters to acknowledge the source. There’s a significant difference, isn’t there?

I recently spotted a statement on Facebook about the importance of art. It was on a page run by an artist named Erik Wahl, and the statement seems to be positioned as if it comes direct from him to us. Here is a screenshot of the statement in full.

The purpose of art is not to produce a product. The purpose of art is to produce thinking. The secret is not the mechanics or technical skill that create art - but the process of introspection and different levels of contemplation that generate it. Once you learn to embrace this process, your creative potential is limitless. Artwork should be an active verb (a lens by which to view the world) not a passive noun (a painting that sits dormant in a museum). Creativity lies NOT in the done but in the doing. Art is active and incomplete. Always shifting, always becoming. Art is a sneak peak into the future of potential, of what could be. Not a past result of what has been already done. Art is a process not a product. Art is a human act. Art is Risky. Generous. Courageous. Provocative. You can be perfect, or you can make art. You can keep track of what you will get in return for your effort, or you can make art. You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art. This is the purpose for why art should not be cut from education.

As I read the statement, it feels odd to me, the flow isn’t quite working. Then I’m sure I begin to recognise in it, parts of other people’s work. For example:

‘Creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.’ This is a quote from the artist Julia Cameron. As an aside, a quick Google search revealed this on The High Road Artist blog from 2011. ‘As Julia Cameron says, “Creativity lies not in the DONE but in the DOING… ” It is ACTIVE and incomplete—always shifting, always becoming.’

‘Art is a process not a product.’ MaryAnn Kohl

‘Art is a human act…You can be perfect or you can make art. You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art. You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art.’ Seth Godin

I may be wrong, I often am, and currently I cannot find any attribution or acknowledgement of the work (and/or influence) of others on or around Erik Wahl’s statement. I suppose there is always a possibility that I’ve simply stumbled upon a series of coincidences, in which case fair play to Erik Wahl, but I’m not sure, and to me his statement would have much more power if he had acknowledged his sources. Currently it feels odd that something which, when I last looked, had been shared over 20,000 times, and liked by over 13,000 people, might not be all that it seems. And that’s OK, because art is theft, right?

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

3 thoughts on “Art is Theft”

  1. “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. The
    good poet welds his theft into
    a whole of feeling which is
    unique, utterly different from
    that from which it was torn.”

    T.S. Eliot

    Found in: ‘Steal like an artist’, by Austin Kleon

    1. Hi Joop – thanks for being in touch. An interesting quote from a lovely book. I’ve given away many copies of this work by Austin Kleon, and you have reminded me it’s about time I read it again – thank you for that.

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