I can’t remember how I came across Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon — but somewhere someone shared it and I ran out and picked it up, so I could add it to my pile of artist self-help books I turn to when I’m feeling anxious.
It’s a great little book, with simple illustrations and clear, researched thoughts and ideas. Initially the title seems provocative, the suggestion that artists steal and there’s a manual offering guidance. It’s not the case, obviously. The book talks about how artists (and we’re talking visual artists, musicians, writers, etc) collect their ideas and influences and remix them to create their own work.
The question of originality can kind of haunt artists. Especially now, after a couple decades of the internet, ideas and images move fast and in sloppy, uncontrolled ways. Some people become fiercely protective of their perceived originality. I’ve had to become fully aware that my subject matter is easily found in vintage and antique shops across a couple continents. It’s not inconceivable that one of the hundreds of thousands of painters out there would pick up a common subject the same as mine, let the pieces fall in to place and, voila, produce a painting similar to mine. Eventually we’ll find each other and wonder who came up with the idea first.
Even if we come up with our own ideas and stumble upon other artists work that is very similar to ours, the fact remains we did pick up our own influences along the way. As long as you’re honest about where your ideas come from, you’re golden.