Stealing Like An Artist—The Fine Line Between Plagiarism and Inspiration

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. But, there are some caveats, right? If you are a creative professional, you’ve no doubt encountered the dreaded question of whether what you’ve created is too close to the work of someone else.

In Austin Kleon’s book, “Steal Like An Artist—10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative,” these issues are addressed in a simplified and honest way. Its pages are littered (beautifully) with quotes from artists like Picasso who stated, “Art is theft” and David Bowie who asserted, “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” The book boldly declares that, “Nothing is original,” saying, “What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before.”

The book encourages the art of taking from another as a source of inspiration and creating something of your own. Skills are honed by attempting to copy others. And, if you’re doing it right (like an artist and not like a thief) then in the process of trying to create something you’ve seen and liked, you’ll actually create something that is your own—inspired by what you’ve seen yet different. And, if it isn’t different, if it looks exactly like what you were inspired by, then it was never inspiration you were feeling; it was laziness.

One of my favorite quotes featured in “Steal Like An Artist”:


Do you work in a creative field? Tell us what you think about these ideas.

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