Nothing is Original.
Ever feel like all the great ideas have already been taken by the ‘real’ artists out there? Do you ever think that maybe you’re not capable of an original idea?
Here is an excerpt from the book, Steal Like an Artist, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative -by Austin Kleon.
Reading this book is akin to, what I imagine, taking hits off of a portable oxygen machine might be like.
From the book…
Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.
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.
We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces.
Remember: Even the Beatles started as a cover band. Paul McCartney has said, “I emulated Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis. We all did.”
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.
What to copy is a little bit trickier. Don’t just steal their style, steal the thinking behind their style. You don’t want to look like your heroes – you want to see like your heroes.
The reason to copy your heroes and their style is 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. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.
At some point, you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when the imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing.
“There isn’t a move that’s a new move.” 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.
Conan O’Brien has talked about how comedians try to emulate their heroes, fall short, and end up doing their own thing. In O’Brien’s words, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”
What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.
If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.
This book is like a breath of fresh air…you might want to read it too, if you’re in the market for some.
The author’s website is: www.austinkleon.com
*Image (from my mantle) tweaked in Photoshop using the cutout filter.