"Those who do not want to imitate, produce nothing." - Salvador Dali
There is a long list of speakers, writers, poets, and storytellers that I regularly steal from. Whether its a theological idea, a gripping story, a lesson learned by a fictional character, or a lyric from a song, I am committed to consuming as much content as possible so that the work I produce is an informed reflection of the ways their work has deeply impacted me.
Last night I read Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. In it he writes, "you have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else—that’s how you’ll get ahead." He goes on to say that our work as artists is to be influenced by a collection of other artists, which will cause us to to truly find our unique voice.
Let me be clear: we are talking about emulation, not replication.
Austin is clear that plagiarism is trying to pass other's work as your own. He says, "you don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes." Get behind the work that is produced. What is the idea? Where were they when they created? How are you deeply influenced by their art?
Imagine the opportunity to host a party with 10 of the people who have influenced you the most by the work they have created. What conversations would take place? How would ideas crash or concert? What would surprise you? At the end of the evening you have one job, go create something that is influenced by that experience.
That is what we get to do everyday. Create work that honors the great work done before us. Not only should we steal, we have to. I steal from you so that you steal from me. Become a brilliant collector of ideas, images, stories, and insight because what emerges from you will not be new, but it will be unique. And that, after all, may be the only thing we have to offer.