5.09.2009

STAYING ENGAGED FOREVER: The Art of Stealing


I love art, I love being thrilled by art, and I love folding these thrills into my own practice. I love stealing.


I recall some of my favorite “combinations” or outright thefts that I’ve heard:

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top calling up Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, asking him how he gets his guitar sound. Knopfler won’t tell him, so Gibbons makes his best guess and sells millions of copies of ELIMINATOR, the album using that sound.

The Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was Kurt Cobain’s attempt to mimic the guitar riff in Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”, which in turn was Tom Scholz’s attempt to write a song like the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee.” All three of these songs are on the Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Rock Songs of All Time. (“More than a Feeling” squeaking in at 500)

The history of painting and fine art is full of examples. From the almost wholesale theft of Japanese printmaking techniques by French artists of the at the turn of the 20th century to Francis Bacon’s direct inspiration from Rembrandt and Velasquez to Warhol, Lichtenstein and other pop artists..

I think Jean Cocteau’s line is accurate: “An original artist is unable to copy. So he has only to copy in order to be original.“

In my own booklet, New Hat, mentioned earlier, I feel all of its best parts were stolen. The idea of an arrogant, defiant man ready for his own stoning I stole from a song by the Mountain Goats. The final moment I stole from a book of Japanese literature. I stole the indignant phrase “in the depths of your ignorance” from a tape recording of Orson Welles recording a voice over for a television commercial selling peas. Utilizing, lifting and grafting these other artistic moments to my own was thrilling; I wish I stole more things like that. Since then I’ve been timid.

-The idea of “ideas and images” comes from Peter Elbow’s idea about words and ideas.
-The countenance of Benny, elsewhere on this blog is basically my good friend Tim Kreider, who contributed many other ideas to this book.

-Benny’s initial story was inspired by this random combination of NANCY panels at right. It “appeared” one day and I thought it was wonderful.
-The IDEA of randomly combining panels of Nancy panels comes completely from Scott McCloud, from whom I’ve probably stolen so so much...
-The idea of “broken routines” comes completely from Keth Johnstone’s Impro for Storytellers.
-My friend Melissa gave me the idea for the to-do lists here
-The idea of “stories as currency” comes from Thomas Moore’s The Reenchantment of the Soul. I imagine he learned or developed it from someone else.
-I stole Eric Maisel’s use of the word “holding” to refer to the image or idea currently in your mind and being developed
-I’m pretty certain I’ve stolen something from Ivan Brunetti but I’m too nervous to look back at his book on cartooning.

I absolutely believe my best work lies ahead of me, and lies in the work I’m absolutely on fire to steal from.

A good composer does not imitate; he steals.
-Igor Stravinsky


EXERCISE - The Art of Stealing

Take something artistic that moves you.

Use it in your own way.

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