Matisse once referred jokingly to his contemporary, rival and friend, Pablo Picasso, as a bandit. Picasso, a man who left a catalogue of some 43,000 works at his death, a record yet to be surpassed, stole from many ecclectic sources, few of which he would acknowledge, but which he moulded into something new, original and never before seen. He created iconic and ground breaking works by paying attention. Art was never the same again.
I approach my art by first seeking out what I like. I find things that move me. Then I try to understand where the ideas for those works came from and try to track back to their heritage. What was it that inspired this artist? From whom did they steal and why? Art criticism is full of good (and spurious) information along those lines and it is endlessly fascinating to read it, whether or not it turns out to be true.
I visit museums. I buy books. I watch programmes on the television about art I like. I also try to get into the details of the techniques. I want to know the how as well as the why. I study colour theory. I have read Kandinsky’s books on art theory. I want to know how to execute the things that excite me.
This applies especially to music, for me. I am a student of effects, record production techniques, arrangement, song writing, synthesis, sound design, instruments, playing techniques, odd quirky equipment, recording studios, surroundings, other musical influences that are being quoted in music I love. I want to understand. Strangely, I find the approach works in every medium and I also find that what I learn about painting often helps my musical composition and what I learn about music changes how I paint.
I think we all need to steal judiciously. I don’t mean copy. I don’t mean imitate. I mean adopt, include and envelop what you see (and hear and read) into what you do.
None of us creates in a vacuum. Why try to go it alone and act like an isolationist, out of some misplaced idea about originality? Originality is almost inevitable, if you give free reign to your inspiration and technique. That’s why learning all you can about how the artists that you love produced what they did and why they produced it is simply passing on hundreds of years of artistic tradition, but with your own personal, unique stamp imprinted upon it.
Originality is there for the taking.