One of the most of the most useful things anyone can learn to do in life is to steal like an artist. And I will being by saying that I stole the line “steal like an artist”, from another artist, Austin Kleon. And Kleon stole his idea from an even bigger artist, Pablo Picasso who famously said “Good artists copy, Great artists steal. ”Now stop right there, I know what you’re thinking: Steal? But stealing is wrong. By steal I don’t mean you should go out and take another person’s work, put your name on it, and sell it on EBay. To steal like an artist means taking a great idea and molding it into something different- maybe even into something better than it was before. Because if we were to take an honest look at our lives we would soon realize that everything we create is stolen or adapted from something else. We are the products of every single influence in our lives mashed together into one vessel. As a result, everything we create is based off of these influences, whether we are aware of it or not.
This concept is not new, in fact as I mentioned before, Pablo Picasso is kind of the great grandfather of “steal like an artist.” But of course, Picasso had his influences too. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world, like Steve Jobs, have been utilizing ideas behind stealing like an artist before it even became mainstream. He once famously said, “We (Apple) have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” And it’s really true. The greatest innovations of all time, like the internet, the light bulb, the printing press… would never have come to fruition if individuals like Thomas Edison or Johannes Gutenberg didn’t have the accomplishments of others before them to build off of. For the printing press movable type, ink and paper had existed for hundreds of years, but it took that one individual to combine them and transform it into something revolutionary.
“Stealing like an artist” really clicked for me today, as I was introduced to a video series on YouTube that transformed this idea into something palpable. Titled “Everything is a Remix” the videos truly capture the process of creative thinking, making the argument that everything- people and all their creations: are remixes. (see link below)
We are constantly taking in, changing and altering, using and reusing all the parts of our world to create something else. I think this is especially true with art. Take for example this piece I finished about a month ago. I took the floating eye from a photo I found on the internet, the bird came from a cartoon I saw and the hand came from an actual photograph I took of a family member. The entire concept was influenced by surrealist art. There are so many other influences I could name that affected this one piece of work- but to name them all would be impossible. How can one even begin to recognize all of the individuals and things that have influenced them throughout their entire existence?
My original work (medium: Prisma-color pencils)
I then realized how the most integral aspects of my life had existed because of so many others before me – the countless trials and errors, mistakes and changes and accomplishments and failures. My life is, in the most fundamental of ways, is a remix. And to go back to my original statement, I guess this is the point I’m trying to make. If we are able utilize these infinite remixes, or as Isaac Newton once said, “stand on the shoulders of the giants”, then we can create something truly amazing. This is the root of innovation.