Godard on Originality

The French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard has an excellent quote on originality:

‘It’s not where you take things from. It’s where you take them to.’

I came across this on Doctorow‘s blog where he was quoting Jim Jarmusch who was quoting Godard.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations. Architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable. Originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said, ‘It’s not where you take things from. It’s where you take them to.’”

Both are similar to, but much better than the worn Picasso quote

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

The cost of borrowing

Of course I was naive. I guess if I thought about it I would have known that I was naive. But when I heard that a museum has lent a collection or a work to another museum, I got a warm fuzzy feeling. This was cultural altruism. I know, I know… Naive.

In a fascinating article in The Art Newspaper, the director of Musée Picasso reveals the true cost of borrowing.

Baldassari revealed the museum raised between €1m and €3.5m a year since 2008 from the touring exhibition “Masterpieces from the Picasso Museum”. It has visited eight cities so far, including Madrid, Helsinki and Tokyo. “We have made [in total] €16m,” she said, adding that the museum levied different charges for loans. “The tariffs vary according to the number of works, the team [involved] and the expertise.”

Brings a whole new meaning to the word to borrow. But then I guess art lease would sound a bit to0… mercenary?

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.