in the nearly 110 years since it’s been painted, edvard munch’s iconic painting, the scream, has been stolen several times and been the target of numerous theft attempts.
it’s one of my favorite paintings. my wife and i have a print of it up in one of our bathrooms.
but this is surely not the type of theft jeff goins is talking about in today’s post in his 15 habits of great writers series.
today’s habit? great artists (and writers) steal.
this is a paraphrase of picasso’s famous saying, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” of course, the theft pablo and jeff are encouraging has nothing to do with the physical taking of something such as the munch’s painting. at least i’m pretty sure it doesn’t.
instead, it’s the concept that inspiration and great art - and therefore, great writing - can come from anywhere and from just about anything. and artists and writers should not shun the inspiration that comes from others’ work.
and, honestly, isn’t that how people first learn their craft? i remember, when i was a kid, i would write stories about my favorite cartoon characters during my writing exercises. i distinctly remember writing stories in my 7-year-old scribbling handwriting - only to get worse with age - about the teenage mutant ninja turtles and beetlejuice. i’m sure others, too.
years later, though i’m not attempting to write any stories with other people’s characters, i find myself borrowing and adapting concepts and ideas from others for my own work. this is particularly true for the novel i’m writing right now.
even look at many of the amazing creations that populate the world wide web that were inspired by others’ work. heck, youtube is full of mashups and redubs, and parodies using characters, concepts, and content from others. but that doesn’t mean they aren’t original or entertaining or creative.
honestly, i think that’s where we get confused with the idea of originality versus derivative work. originality is a new interpretation of existing ideas, thoughts, concepts, technologies, and art.
i find the encouragement to steal somewhat liberating. it liberates me from the impossible pursuit of true originality. let’s face it: every story we writers can write has been told before.
just not by you.