If you know enough about any field, it’s hard to imagine you can do anything new or original. For people who do creative work, that kind of mindset can be paralysing. But as writer and artist Austin Kleon points out, no idea exists in a vacuum; the key is identifying what’s worth stealing.
It’s not a new idea — you’ve very likely heard the phrase “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” It’s commonly attributed to Pablo Picasso, or T.S. Eliot, though it likely originated with neither. Kleon illustrates his point in the cartoon above, and has this to say on the subject:
Here’s what artists understand. It’s the a three-word sentence that fills me with hope every time I read it:
Nothing is original.
It says it right there in the Bible. Ecclesiastes:
“That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.”
Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of previous ideas.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the great-artists-steal idea, it never hurts to hear a well-presented reminder: When you feel like you can’t come up with a truly original idea, it isn’t the end of the world. More likely, you’re just being honest with yourself. Embrace what you know, steal what works best, and roll it together with other great ideas to make something that, while not necessarily original, may be new and interesting.
For more, hit up Austin’s full post, which is filled with well-formed advice that applies to nearly any kind of work. Got a strong opinion on the subject? Let’s hear it in the comments. Photo by Austin Kleon.
How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me) [Austin Kleon via @rosa]