Don’t Plagiarize, Do Steal

‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’ -Jean-Luc Godard

Paul Peditto has written a great article for about the benefits of stealing — not plagiarizing, but re-imagining stories that have been told a hundred times before, taking inspiration from better artists than yourself, and making old ideas new.

He explains:

Stealing. Should you ever do it?

C’mon… seriously? The answer is FUCK yeah.

Let me bow to my betters, first some thoughts on the subject by Jim Jarmusch, appropriately stolen/borrowed from a pal’s Facebook entry:

“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.'”
Please understand, I’m not advocating plagiarism. Plagiarists are stunningly UN-original. I’m advocating, like Jarmusch, something more akin to re-interpretation. Old school filtered through your lens, coming out new. Like Picasso…

Never been big on Cubism but the modern “influences” upon Picasso clearly coalesced into a startling “new” form. Yet Picasso himself was the one who uttered (or supposed uttered) the most famous words on this subject. “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” This isn’t a call for outright copying of copywritten materials. It’s a nod to the undeniable fact that every generation steals from the generation before it, taking their vision to new directions using new technologies and old themes to bring us to an entirely new place creatively. The difference between innovation and boring unoriginality is located firmly between the ears of the artist/writer.

This take on Romeo and Juliet is interesting too…

“The best example I can think of would be Shakespeare’s theft of Romeo and Juliet. The story is an Italian tale, probably by Bandello. It was translated into English (by Arthur Brooke), and then retold by some guy named William Painter in prose form, and then retold a third time by Shakespeare in play form. The story was well known at the time and many people then knew full well that it was adaptation. But the brilliance of Shakespeare’s adaptation has completely occluded any prior versions from memory, so that Romeo and Juliet is indelibly associated with Shakespeare.

Others have done re-adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, such as West Side Story written by Arthur Laurents. But West Side Story will always be remembered as a musical based on the Shakespeare play.

Thus, Shakespeare was stolen from Bandello, Brooke and Painter because now Shakespeare in a sense owns Romeo and Juliet. Whereas Arthur Laurents merely borrowed from Shakespeare, since people will always remember West Side Story as an adaptation of a Shakespeare work.

Read more here.

P.S. You can also steal from yourself. Aaron Sorkin does it all the time.

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