Some call stealing inspiration, but if you see or experience something and then change or employ those experiences in your life — you have effectively borrowed and stolen the thoughts of others and I wholly encourage that effort.
I am not condoning plagiarism, but I am supporting the opportunity to consider and use ideas that are not your own because there are no original thoughts left in the world.
Over the weekend, I read a fascinating article in the New York Times indicating that the world-famous “copy” of the Mona Lisa was probably actually sanctioned by the great Leonardo da Vinci himself:
It turns out that the Prado’s Mona Lisa is not just any 500-year-old copy. It was most likely painted by someone who was sitting right next to Leonardo da Vinci, trying to duplicate his every brush stroke, as he produced his famous lady with the enigmatic smile.
When Leonardo adjusted the size of the Mona Lisa’s head or corrected her hands or slimmed her bosom or lowered her bodice, so did whoever was painting the Prado’s Mona Lisa.
“It had to be painted at the same time,” Ms. González said. “Someone who copies doesn’t make corrections because they haven’t ever seen the changes. They can see only the surface of the painting.”
That Mona Lisa discovery now necessarily leads us into a grander conversation about Art and Inspiration and how we come to create original works.
Direct stealing is much harder to defend because the evidence is there in the duplicate, the copy, the fake. There is a fake Mona Lisa and there is a real Mona Lisa and the fake can never become the inspiration for the original work.
When we move inspiration from the hard canvas and into swirls of light on a stage, or in a certain cut of fabric on the runway, or a catchy turn of phrase wending its way from the hard page to the empty stage, what is real and what is right and what has been copied is harder to determine because there are additional layers of human intervention entwined in the erstwhile effort to bring new life out of old compunctions.
When it comes to film — the hard standard for copying is much easier to prove — either you have copied the shot and the sequence or you have not, and the effort is there and recorded in still frames from now until forever. I am reminded of director Gus Van Sant’s horrible 1998 cut-by-cut “remake” of Hitchcock’s Psycho — intended as a “tribute” to the great master — that was not only a purposeful copy of the original, but a pale resemblance when compared against the masterpiece. Copies are lifeless and uninspired and that remake proved that hard and uncomfortable point, not matter the overlaying intention of goodness.
We need to be carefully aware of history and our inspirations and if we choose to create Art from those native human impulses, we must better align the original work by changing its temperature and tuning to fit our own unique worldview or we, by default, become the copy and never the conduit for inspiring others to take our influences and run with them anew.