Bad artists copy. Great artists steal

Visited the Picasso exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum and was totally inspired. When I got back to the laptop I remembered the often repeated Picasso quote that: “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”

His words were probably uttered as a short cool statement but in a digital environment they are even truer than ever before. Simple copying of other peoples material is just boring and unimpressive. Copying is plagiarism – it’s taking credit for the work someone else has done. At best it’s false marketing.

When great artists steal they take the ideas of others and rework them into something new. The result of the theft is their in front of your eyes but reworked and reinterpreted to a new level of communication. One of the best examples of this was an idea taken from Goya’s work The Shootings of May Third 1808.

The works are similar, obviously so. And yet the differences were intense and total. Nobody could mistake the work of Picasso for that of Goya. Picasso was obviously deeply influenced by his predecessor, but his interpretation of the scene was moving and challenging.

Picasso was challenging the war in Korea in his work Massacre in Korea and maybe did not need Goya. But by building upon the work of Goya he created a work which both becomes a critique of the war and the continuation of an artistic meme. This is why it is fair to say that Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.

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