Lesson One – It’s OK to
be inspired by steal from others. There is no such thing as original artwork or original anything, really.
This was a toughie, and to be truthful, still is. Years of writing papers has instilled in me a deep fear of being accused of plagiarism. Even though I know that artists are inspired by and often copy other artists’ work (especially starting out), I feel like I have to make a disclaimer every time I do this, even though I am not selling any of stuff I am painting or drawing. HEY PEOPLE, THIS PIECE IS BASED ON SOMETHING SOMEONE ELSE DREAMED UP FIRST. So far I seem to be the only one doing this. Huh.
Here’s a quote taken from Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” (required reading AND re-reading for moi):
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.”
– William Ralph Inge
Here’s another one, from Mr. Kleon himself:
“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”
And my favourite:
“The only art I’ll ever study is the stuff I can steal from.”
– David Bowie
Hell, if it’s good enough for Ziggy….
Lesson Two – You can get an art education from books and the internet.
You know, when I was deep in the middle of my MBA studies I came across an article that really burned me up. In it the author claimed that business school was a complete money-grubbing scam and that anyone could pick up an MBA education just by reading articles online. All the information was out there, free for the taking.
Having committed to spending 44K to get the (nicely framed, mind you) piece of parchment that is now displayed on my work office’s wall, naturally I took offence to this. And still do. Yes, the information (and much, much more) is out there. But nobody is curating it – pulling out the acknowledged, peer-reviewed, up-to-the-moment best stuff and guiding you as you take it in, process it and let it shape your own thinking.
But now I am attempting to do just that, with my artistic journey. At this point I can’t envision committing to much or anything in the manner of formal art education, so do-it-yourself it is! It helps that there are so many artists putting up how-to videos out there, and also dropping great tidbits (colour theory, brush selection, canvas prepping, composition…to name just a few) in their painting patter while showing you step-by-step how they create a particular piece. I have gleaned so much from these little nuggets, it’s worth watching just for them…even if I never intend to ever make that particular painting.
Lately I’ve been watching videos in which artists discuss their favourite books – the ones that really helped them grow in their art. One of those books I already own – Betty Edward’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I bought it over 20 years ago, and had started some of the exercises but then life (as it always does) got in the way. It has survived multiple book purges and moves since then and is still in almost pristine condition. For this moment, apparently. Because I am going to work through it FOR REAL this time.
And maybe the most important lesson I have learned so far on my journey is this:
Lesson Three – Every piece you create will have its “hot mess” stage. Wait a bit, then keep going.
Resist that urge to (dramatically, with loud cursing and hair pulling) rip it up or paint it out and start over. Let it sit for a bit. Leave it alone. Go watch some Bob Ross till you feel calm again. Watching Bob, you can Netflix and actually chill.
You may grow to like what you’ve done better after some away from it. Or you may figure out the fix it needs. Or you may just paint it out and start over.
At the very least you will create some detachment from it, and be able to look at it more objectively later than when you were in the passionate midst of creating. As with writing, time apart from your piece will do you both good.
Rock (and steal, and create) on,