Have you ever heard the phrase, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
Uttered by the widely acclaimed abstract artist, Pablo Picasso, like many at first, I dismissed this quote as being senseless. It’s deeper meaning was absence, and it’s facade of being “deep” just annoyed me.
It wasn’t until I embarked on my journey to become a filmmaker, that I truly understood this phrase. So when I was filming a particular scene, I thought of this quote again and I smiled.
I smiled, because I had just realized what I’d done. I stole. The night before, I watched my favorite director’s most acclaimed film ever, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. And while unfortunately it was his last, fans and critics alike praised and revolted the film’s subject matter and morality. A quick summary of the film just to help those, it’s about a doctor seeking his own sexual fantasies after his wife admits to one. This sends his knee-deep into a sex cult that endangers his life. You may see why this film was so controversial now.
Anyways, what I took from this film wasn’t any of the story or theme. All I took was a minor camera technique. During a scene where the female lead is laughing hysterically, the camera moves up and down, like squatting. Honestly, it looked out of place and like the camera man himself was laughing. But when I saw the scene, I saw potential. And when I recreated the exact motion in my film, I couldn’t help but make the connection and smile.
So while many are raving about that film’s subject, I came in, took a technique and got praised for being the “first one to do so.” This further reinforces the idea that many people are only amazed by this because it’s the first time they’re being introduced to it.
A more clearer example would be the music you listen to. There’s a good chance your favorite song involves a sample. ‘The Art of Sampling’ also involves taking or recreating an older sound and popularizing it with modern culture. Again, this just leads many to believe newer artists are the first ones to do it, which unfortunately means the original source gets overshadowed. Having read this, it sounds like a blatant rip off and copyright infringement. But I don’t see it that way. I do see it as inspiration and as homage. It’s flattery to know your material was so good, it inspired other fellow artists.
But at what point is it influence and when is it straight up jacking someone? I disagree with this claim, because I believe everything is already stolen. Many of our source materials can be described as “hand me downs.” In more creative words, recent entertainment and media is just a branch from the tree were the original content was. And if the tree grows apples, people just pick them and sell them off as there own. And consumer’s praise the apple, without realization of the process it went through to get here. Either way, as long as watchers and listeners enjoy the product, everybody wins.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been anymore originality though. Like I stated earlier, a mere scene from a movie could have inspired a whole music video. And a catchy song, might go on to become the roots for a film. ‘The Art of Stealing’ is about how you can take and interpret something to make it your own.
And if people are more entertained by “your” work, then like Picasso would have said, you’re a great artist.