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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/9358/great-artists-steal/

Great Artists Steal?

February 2, 2009 by

Shelley Esaak of Shelley’s Art History Blog (About.com) writes,

“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”

What is your interpretation of this phrase? So far the only response I’ve gotten is a rather snarky non-answer. (Additionally, we’re on the hunt for proof that Picasso actually *did* say those six words. Source, anyone?)

Her question is not directly about intellectual property, but the debate on IP, both here and elsewhere, is certainly about questions of innovation, originality, progress, and privilege. Perhaps Austrians and fellow travelers have more to say on the subject right now than do the art-history enthusiasts over at About.com.


Lester Hunt February 2, 2009 at 1:45 pm

I’ve always thought that the quote means that great artists too use the ideas of others, but rethinking them so completely that they become their own. (A borrower isn’t trying to make the thing his or her own,while the thief is, is the idea.)

Dick Fox February 2, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I am reminded of a book I read called “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.” The book is about how we use the discoveries and ideas of the past and especially how education allows us to shortcut having to relearn what others before us have learned. I believe that this education element is one of the victims of patent and copyright. The free flow of thoughts and ideas shared with the next generation is the most amazing thing about human beings and yet humans limit their own potential.

Bryce Hotz February 2, 2009 at 6:43 pm

I agree with Dick,

Being a musician that is interested in songwriting, I can speak from my own experience that I would have gotten nowhere without reapplying what I have learned from musicians before me. Of course I had to pay for all those records and cd’s that got me to that point, but I’ve been equally moved by music I’ve heard over at friends houses and elsewhere that I have never bought, I may go home and work out the melody of the song on a guitar anyway, just so I can have a visual reference of what the recorded musicians were trying to accomplish and can add it to my knowledge base for future use when crafting my own songs.

With the accumulation of musical knowledge (really this goes with all knowledge), a kid can grow up and learn how to play Django Reinhardt, Chuck Berry, Led Zepplin and Megadeth within a few years whereas that actual progression of music took more than half of a century in reality to evolve in such a way.

The same learning process is used for all sorts of things, and barely anyone comes up with a good idea without first being inspired by many good ideas (whether directly, or indirectly) that came before it. It’s those old ideas that we love and are in awe of that stimulate and motivate our own forward thinking.

The most clever find ways of reframing the art or knowledge of something in a way that makes one experience a new feeling or insight and opens the door for further progression.

Deefburger February 2, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Bryce Hotz: Well said! This is what I mean when I speak about expression of thought as unique, versus the thought itself. Every artist, inventor, writer, etc. will, express a thought idea, music etc. in a way unique to their own person.

It is in performance, production, publication where the non-physical thought is made physical, and thus made into a valuable good that has tangible value. The idea or thought itself is still non-physical and still must be shared to exist. It is in the sharing that we value it. “Protect” it from being shared, and you “protect” it from existence.

randal February 2, 2009 at 11:59 pm

I believe it was Igor Stravinsky, 20th-century Russian composer. In music, some of the greatest composers used material from others, but reshaped and made it their own. Mauchaut, a mid-14th century French composer, is a great example. Bach’s music was heavily influenced by Buxtehude, e.g.

newson February 3, 2009 at 8:14 am

look at picasso’s “les demoiselles d’avignon” and the various theories about from whence he drew inspiration. some say el greco’s “opening of the fifth seal”, others cezanne’s “les grandes baigneuses”.
picasso admitted to being very influenced by african tribal art (masks).
velasquez’ “las meninas” got the picasso workover, too.

it’s enough to make a randian weep.

Artisan February 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

The quote is pretty good and suitable for Picasso in more than just one way I guess.
Certainly there’s provocation in it – like in all his work.

It means that, while good artists are able to use every known “technique” to come to a “good” result, the “genius” should take his inspiration from a source that is not “meant” to be copied as it is not acknowledged as a “technique” – hence stealing.

Picasso took (with Dubuffet) children drawing technique to the museum, he took tribal (savage) art there too… and when he made his numerous allusions to painting history, it was in a very irreverent manner.

Note however that Picasso almost went to Prison in his early “starved” years for offering well imitated “modiglianis” to a certain market… eventually he discovered a more personal way to reach glory though.

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