This Is A Short Excerpt From My Upcoming Book:
The Artist’s Guide To Living
The “Artist Lifestyle” How to:
Steal, Master, Travel, Share
And live the good life.. of an Artist.
“Art is theft.”
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.”
—William Ralph Inge
“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy.
At the end of the copy you will find your self.”
Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
...The honest artist answers, “I steal them."
The truth is when people call something “original,” usually it means nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved. That's why a good artist always understands that nothing in the world comes from nowhere. Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are.
So how do we get to know ourselves? How do we find our own style? How do we become an artist?
The artist, he is a collector, he is a copy maschine. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love and is personal to them.
Your job if you want to be an artist is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.
You see.. First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second, you have to figure out what to copy. Who to copy is easy. You copy your heroes—the people you love, the people you’re inspired by, the people you want to be. Start by rewriting a hero’s catalog..by collecting everything you love from them. What is it that you most like about what your heroes are doing? What tricks, what paintings, what style, what way..
“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. This can be anything.. 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."
And you don’t just steal from one of your heroes, you steal from all of them. The thing is.. If you copy from one artist, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research.
So for your research you should keep a swipe file. And it’s just what it sounds like—a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve loved and swiped from others. See something worth stealing? Put it in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file.
If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say.. "Hey! You’re the next whoever!" But if you copy a hundred people, everyone will say "Hey! You’re so original!”
And they won't be lying.. Putting stuff together in a new way is as original as it can get.
We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism—Plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works. He got there where he is because of this, this and that. You get to know the elements.. and once you get to know them one by one you start separating them and build them together in a new way like never before.
A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve. So: Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? What is a specific field that is your strength.
That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work. Emphasize Strengths, don’t fix weaknesses. Most people are good at a handful of things and utterly miserable at most. It is far more effective and fun to leverage your strength instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor. The choice is between using strength or fixing weaknesses, that will, at best, become mediocre.
Think about your heroes. What did they miss? What didn’t they make? What could’ve been made better? If they were still alive, what would they be making today with your strength points? What would they make together?
You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want—to internalize their way of looking at the world.
In the end, merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your very own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add.
The basketball star Kobe Bryant has admitted that all of his moves on the court were stolen from watching tapes of his heroes. But initially, when Bryant stole a lot of those moves, he realized he couldn’t completely pull them off because he didn’t have the same body type as the guys he was thieving from. He had to adapt the moves to make them his own. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.
All creative work builds on what came before, but it builds in a new way. Nothing is completely original. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you love and choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. At some point, you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing. Once you have enough knowledge accumulated, once you have enough skill mastered from your heroes.. you can make your own thing.
In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out as well. In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important.
You should focus on stuff that is so rare it's almost forgotten "lost gold". Wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about. In order to do that you have to get really informed.. you might have to get to know a basket full of fruits..and If everybody’s wondering about apples, go wonder about oranges. Oranges were probably forgotten to exist. Take all the oranges in the world and make the ultimate orange and it will be like new.
The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, do the act you would like to see, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.
The right constraints can lead to your very best work. For instance if you watch a million video's, read a million books about your topic, genre or interest and accumulate knowledge telling yourself you have all the time in the world... Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying. So the way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself.
The way I do it?
Get enough information so you know who the bests of the world are in what you do.. once you know, only concern yourself with the very best heroes and nobody else. You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online—the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work. If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room and get challenged.
If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people. It’s a two-step process.
- Step one, “do good work,” is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Know you’re going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better. Amassing a body of work or building a career is a lot about the slow accumulation of little bits of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.
- Step two, “share it with people,” was really hard up until about ten years ago or so. Now, it’s very simple: “Put your stuff on the Internet.”
I think that pretty much concludes my views on stealing. If you want to know more where "I stole" my views about stealing.. there's a great book with the same name.
It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past. This is me talking to a previous version of myself and the current one..just to keep it as a reminder. These are things I’ve learned over almost a decade of trying to figure out how to "make it" as an artist, but a funny thing happened I realized that they aren’t just for me, they are for each and every artist. They’re for everyone. In other words: This is for you. Whoever you are, whatever you make. I hope it helped.
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