If You Like It, Steal It. Seriously.

Revolutionary 20th-century painter Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.” Any art nerd knows that, right?

Actually, it was controversial 19th-century playwright Oscar Wilde who first coined the phrase, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.” Right? English nerds and theater geeks, you with me?

Actually, there is no evidence that points the quote in question to either of these creative giants. In fact, the quote in either of the currently popular forms does not formally exist anywhere in the English canon. It was, in fact, literary master T. S. Eliot who wrote in the 1920 biographical essay “Philip Massinger” the following quip:

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~
*Sigh* Is there any wonder this guy was a poet? Put that on your t-shirt. 

Were Eliot to have included all artists in this maxim, it would be even more superior to either poorly attributed and oversimplified modern distortion of the quote than it already is!

“Good artists borrow”? Since when?

“Here, Miss Rowling, let me just borrow your characters, storyline, and fantastical universe for a minute and use them to write a passionate yet unlikely love story which I feel should have been included in the series partly but not entirely because I have a crush on one of the characters involved in this imagined romance.”  

This is not art. This is what we call “fan fiction.”

T. S. Eliot calls us to a higher standard as artists. Don’t just borrow the ideas of others–
Ransack them! Rape and pillage every creative element and distort them until they are barely recognizable! Make them wish they were never born in the mind of another artist!

Ah ah ah, you know Mr. Eliot wouldn’t approve. Bad poets deface what they take.” I’m convinced there is a particularly warm place in purgatory for people who do what has already been done before exactly how it was done before except worse.  

This is what we call “remixes.”

Everybody loves a good example, right?

Too bad there was nothing good about the piece of auditory abomination you just witnessed. Okay, that was a little harsh. I will grant that it was a tiny bit catchy and certainly easier to dance to than the original, but I don’t think anyone will argue with me when I say that it was not exactly a masterful work of art that will stand the test of time.

It doesn’t take a musical theorist to deduce that laying a bouncy backbeat on top of an already artistically brilliant piece of musical theater is not the sort of thing that will land you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the MoMA.

Did that work for you? Was that any less offensive?

Singer David Cook, for whom I voted diligently during American Idol season 7, has a knack for re-imagining even songs that were incredibly definitive for their original creators (Mariah Carey, in this case.) Regardless of how you feel about the original bubblegum pop version of this song, you can’t accuse David of trying to recreate that original piece of art. He stole the song and made it into something completely different–something completely “him.”

What do we get when we cross-breed the two videos above? I’m glad you asked.

Well, how did you like that?

Oh, who am I kidding? THAT WAS INCREDIBLE! I’M MELTING! DID YOU SEE THAT?! I MELTED RIGHT THERE! Musical theater (favorite) crossbred with sultry indie/alternative rock (other favorite)? I’m in heaven!

In an attempt to be objective, I was merely trying to point out that truly great artists can be even better than different.

They can be themselves.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, if you’re going to be yourself, why not just come up with original ideas?!” Do you really believe that such a thing exists? Do you really believe that every “new” and creative idea to come into your mind is yours and solely yours? That it wasn’t inspired, informed, improved, or otherwise influenced by some great thinker to go before you?

Rather than bemoaning the fact that you can’t create something that’s never been created before or attempting to make cheap duplicates of what has been created before, why not add something knew to the melting pot that is art? You have a fresh perspective. You have unique passions and priorities. You have resources that others don’t.

Why not prove that you are capable of possessing value that no one else has? Why not be a thief? Better yet, why not be a thief who returns what was stolen better than it was before?

“There are no original ideas, only original people.” ~Jessica Thurston~ 

I have no idea who first said this, but I feel like not knowing if it was Picasso, Wilde, Eliot, Rowling, Cook, Lady Gaga, or Miss Piggy just makes the point all stronger.


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