Also Known As Everything Comes From Somewhere
There’s a phrase that goes something like, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” which basically means that we are incapable of creating anything that is in and of itself entirely new. Wow. That feels like a smack in the face, doesn’t it? Or does it?
Austin Kleon wrote a book entitled, Steal Like An Artist, which is basically about how artists steal ideas from other artists before them who stole from artists before them and so on and so forth. He brings up many good points in his book including the thought that artists are collectors, nothing is original, and that nothing comes from nowhere. The subtitle of his book is actually, 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Creative. We are all inspired by something or someone who came before us. We might not even realize that we are being inspired by someone until someone else points out that we are actually making something that is eerily similar to another piece of work.
Kleon gave a TEDx talk in Kansas City in 2012. One of the most interesting things he said at this event was that, “You are a mashup of what you let into your life,” you are the sum of what you see and experience. You see a piece of art in a museum and later end up making your own piece of art that is an imitation of the original piece which could very well have been an imitation of something before it.
There is physically no way to create something that lacks all inspiration from the outside world. We are bombarded by design and art and music every single day and all these things influence all the things that we create. Before I start almost any project I scour Pinterest for interesting ideas. I have boards full of design, branding, packaging, magazine layouts, and more that are a collection of other artists’ works that I wish emulate.
Last year in Specialized Studies In Design we were tasked with making anything that we wanted for our final project. I chose to create fashion sketches because when I was younger I thought I was going to become a fashion designer. I had no idea what kind of sketches I wanted to make so I took to Pinterest and found so many drawings that inspired me and eventually landed on one style that I absolutely loved, so I stole it and altered it to be what I wanted. From there I went on to produce a series of 5 sketches of models. This is still one of my favorite things I have ever done.
I have this book, Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design, by Michael Bierut. He’s an amazingly talented designer who works for the largest independent design consultancy in the world, Pentagram. I have yet to read all of the essays, but a couple of them I have read go along with this idea of stealing art quite well. In one of his essays, “Designing Under the Influence,” he writes, “We’ve arrived at a moment where all that has preceded us provides an enormous mother lode of graphic reference points, endlessly tempting, endlessly confusing.” We have access to practically everything that came before us with just the click of a mouse. We can go all over the web and find countless amounts of inspiration to create something to call our “own”.
Another essay in Beirut’s book entitled, “I Am A Plagiarist,” addresses the idea that we plagiarize without consciously knowing what we are doing. He writes, “I saw something, stored it in my memory, forgot where it came from, and pulled it out later – much later – when I needed it….How can I be sure that any idea that comes out of that same mind is absolutely my own?”
I think the point he is trying to make is that we can’t, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As long as we give credit where credit is due and actually create something that isn’t merely an exact replica of what came before, are we really plagiarists? Or are we simply a bunch of artists and creatives collecting the images we see around us?