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?

Artists and Thieves

I joined David Zinger’s Employee Engagement network back in March 2009 and since then I’ve gained a lot from being a part of this network. I’ve contributed, shared and learned, and I’ve met David twice on his visits to the UK. I think the network is a helpful resource for people curious about how to make work more enjoyable and useful, and if you’re not yet a member, pop over and take a look – and if you like what you see then maybe join in?

The reason I referenced this network today is that I received a super email from David this week in which he shared a video he’d posted on the network called Steal Like an Artist.

The video is an interesting tale told by Austin Kleon as he traces the roots of his ‘original’ ideas and thinking about creating poetry directly from the newspapers of the day all the way back to the mid 1700s. Not so original after all huh? Kleon acknowledges this and goes on to encourage us to steal and reinvent pieces of work we admire, and mash up the old and the new to create something different…ish. I don’t have a newspaper to hand right now, but I will buy one and see what poetic efforts I can steal extract from it soon.

Watching the video, I was reminded of being in the company of a few friends earlier this year, when among other things, we tried an experiment with poetry which went something like this: I encouraged people to think of a list of words around the themes of water and movement (we were in Greenwich close by to the River Thames), and once people had a few words and shared them with the group, we each then looked to integrate our words into verse. Pencils and paper were provided along with some ink pencils too, so that people could add colour to their emerging work. Because we approached the task in stages it seemed to make it easier for people to produce interesting work than if we’d all just tried to write a poem from scratch. Here’s some feedback from a few of my fellow thieves poets after they’d had time to reflect on the process.

I enjoyed the peace, the step by step building, delving into something deeper. I felt prepared and safe, yet ready for something unsafe. I was surprised at the emotion it created, although writing poetry myself, I realise it can be an amazing conduit. I felt it connected the group, and yet was an individual isolation.  Paradoxically. Meg Peppin

What was unique about the experience was being with my creativity alongside others in a way that I had not experienced before. I very much enjoyed experiencing and seeing compelling aspects of others naturally surfacing through the process, linking me to their creativity, passion and power of their contribution. For me personally it provided an opportunity to access a different way to face a challenge. Simply by exploring one word, I found an ease of flow and depth. I took away a personal commitment to use the process whenever stuck, be it in writing, creating workshops or bedding down new thinking and new approaches. Natasha Stallard

Your session, like some of the others featured what i consider to be an important aspect of facilitating conversation and making things happen and that was – it was companionable. By this I mean we were doing an activity together which led to other things ie conversation, tears etc. I’m going to write about being companionable at some point because it so powerful for letting other things happen. This was my number one take-away.

So . . . really liked the fact I was sharing an activity with everyone else. I liked they fact I was free to do whatever i chose – bit of painting, poetry. Wasn’t sure where I or we as a group were going but I liked that and it felt OK. I was less concerned about what I would leave with, i.e. a decent poem and enjoyed more the experience.

I liked the sense of place and connections with where we were (Greenwich, river) and I enjoyed the way you facilitated the session – bit of nudging, suggestions  . . . helping us along. I liked the context you provided us with – I thought that was a good bit of hosting, something I liked.  I also really enjoyed seeing what everyone else did and their reactions. Some powerful responses which left me wondering about peoples’ past experiences. I got snippets of people but not the whole picture. Martin Couzins

On returning home, I stole the idea had a go too and produced this drawing/doodle/poem/video – called Slowly Bares the Soul

So what? Well I think the video David sent out and the experiences it reminded me of, point out the importance of reinvention and repurposing, of being open to new possibilities, and also to letting ideas percolate, layer and develop. Someone should write a poem about that.

Thanks to David Zinger, Austin Kleon, Megan Peppin, Natasha Stallard and Martin Couzins. Without people, you’re nothing.