How To Steal Ideas Like an Artist

You read the title and thought I was talking smack. But in fact, I’m trying to give advice.

The history of the world is one of shared spaces, shared food, shared water, shared DNA, shared lives. The history of art is the same. It is a history of an evolution of ideas, of appropriation and application. Therefore, if you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than 1. inside you; and then 2. to other art work that fuels your soul. Apply your own story to what you see. Make it relevant, make it yours. Remix it all and you’re underway. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch says it best:

“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 nonexistent.”


The above image plus the reminder that all of life is a collage, via the uber talented Austin Kleon.

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54 Responses to How To Steal Ideas Like an Artist

  1. Oliver April 11, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    It’s true.

    • Matthew Woodget April 12, 2011 at 9:34 am #

      You are correct – I must admit to doing that.

      Here’s a “theft” challenge then, or should we say “assimilation”, which of course isn’t as holistic or deliberate :)

      Can you vote on your favorite three photos here: http://www.fluidpixel.com/Portfolio/MSPhotobook2011Options

      Being the artist I’m struggling to select just three to submit to a charity photo book project. This is year three of the project and we’ve raised ~$50K+ a year for United Way of King County.

      Thanks for your help!

  2. Ryan Tubongbanua April 11, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    I couldn’t agree more!

    That is how I started out with photography, I looked at photos I liked and tried my best to produce something like it with my own flair.

    • Joe April 12, 2011 at 6:21 am #

      And now you are world famous! Well done.

  3. Kim Guanzon - Utah Commercial Photographer April 11, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    “Originality is non-existent” I love this!!!

  4. Gabe April 11, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    At what point does it then become your own? I agree with what you say to some extent. However, I feel that taking a painting (Mona Lisa) and making it look like an Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe is not exactly making it your own. My two cents.

    However, if you are taking the Mona Lisa, putting her against a graffiti background, and giving her tattoos, piercings, etc, then its more original.

  5. diala chinedu April 11, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    “Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent”…wow, thats strong. I never tot of it like that. Infact, I try not to reproduce things I have seen before. I try. But I allow the works of other people to inspire me to produce better work…

  6. mark rodriguez April 11, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    Plagiarism is the biggest form of flattery

  7. mark rodriguez April 11, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    i steal from Chase all the time :)

  8. .monti April 11, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    real like life

  9. Jennifer Duffy Photography April 11, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    I was at Memphis State when Jarmusch had recently finished “Mystery train” and I was an Art major at the school. I would enter paintings and get into the yearly school art competition. and a few shows Jarmusch and I would run into each other at the showings, I have a white streak in my hair and he has all white hair. I had no clue to who he was, other than a film professor.

    What struck me as the most fun was how we went through a show once discussing some of the art and we came to my piece and he asked me way i choose what I did, and why I displayed it the way I had; Six abstract images the we to represent light and the cross that you can see when you pupil dilates down to a center…aperture. But I also told him I did it just because I knew it would get me in the show….And he laughed and said that was a good enough reason as any.

  10. Elizabeth Stewart April 11, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    This totally explains Lady Gaga.

  11. Ines April 11, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    We are on the same page. And if we were to flip to the next, what would be there?

  12. TomOnTheRoof April 11, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Great advice Chase! There is nothing wrong in being inspired by other photographs. The world has been photographed all over, in all ways. We just have to find what we love, distill it through our vision and make it our own and unique.

  13. windserfer April 11, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Imitatio et Aemulatio!

  14. Chad Bishop April 11, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    While lounging with my 4 year old, I discovered an amazing example of this premise last weekend. These two movies, filmed over 15 years apart, are remarkably similar in plot, characters, themes, etc.
    Avatar (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499549/) and Ferngully (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104254/). However, they are world’s apart (pun intended) in vision and execution!

  15. Kim Long April 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

    ~ C.S. Lewis

  16. Eric April 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Imagine what it was like back in the day when the first painter painted a portrait of someone, or the first landscape artist painted the Grand Canyon. I wonder what those artist thought when they were out walking along and saw the first painting of something similar to their work and it wasn’t theirs.

  17. Kurtis Bowersock April 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I understand that no thought is completely original, but just copying (pictured above) skips understanding. And understanding is how you grow.

  18. Matt Timmons April 11, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    I’ve always wondered if the photographers, or more precisely their work that I am influenced by, were possibly stolen ideas from a work that they were influenced by.

  19. Virginia Smith April 11, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    …must steal that quote to share with my daughters as we start off our studio together. This is a discussion we have had ad nauseum. love it!

  20. gerson lopes April 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm #

    Good point, everything is recycled! Creativity is how u do recycle the things around u.

  21. Anonymous April 11, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination”
    And that’s why God created lawyers

  22. Danny Eastwood April 11, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    Great post.

    We are the sum of our experience and anything we create is a result of those experiences and the things that we have been influenced by.

    Nothing is created from nothing, we are simply reinterpreting what has gone before.

  23. Cian Hayes April 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    To be fair, I think Austin Kleon deserves a little more credit than you’ve atributed to him. Not only is the image borrowed from Austin but the title ad the main thrust of your post.

    http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/

    Anyone who likes this post would do well to read the full post from Austin Kleon, I found it extremely inspiring with lots of solid pragmatic advice.

    • Chase Jarvis April 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      Given the context I can’t help but assume you’re making an ironic statement to be funny.

      But in case you missed it – the picture is credited to austin in his own writing and right in the blog post i credit the picture, post and inspiration all to Mr. Kleon, including a link to him. He’s a hero and an inspiration, and all props are due and given to him.

      “The above image plus the reminder that all of life is a collage, via the uber talented Austin Kleon.

      • Cian Hayes April 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

        No, I’m not being funny, I’m being very serious. I know you’ve given him credit for the image but I feel you’ve taken far more from his post than just the image and the spirit. I think the decent thing to do is link directly to his original post, call it out and sure, riff on it; but as it stands I think you’re glossing over how much of what you posted is his. As far as I can tell the only thing you added is the quote.

  24. DerekBrad April 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    I love this post thank you

  25. Venura Herath April 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

    True That Chase!

  26. ejlsquared April 12, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    Very well said. That is such an inspirational message quoted from the best :)

  27. fas April 12, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    Stealing is also an art as long as you dont get caught :p

  28. James Bunch April 12, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    It’s a great thought, although interesting in light of the thoughts from http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/2010/08/is-inspiration-killing-creativity/

    Both ideas seem to have great points and I think that you have to go into both to fully appreciate and articulate art and photography. On one hand is the idea of not worrying about creating anything new and just taking what is out there and morphing it with your own flavor. On the other you have the idea that we should look less at what is out there because that is the very thing that is squashing our creativity.

    Like I said, I do think there is a balance and I hate to say we just need to be in the middle because that is just about as boring as you can get, but the idea of being able to walk around with both of these perspectives in view I think gives us the best opportunity to develop our creativity and photography.

  29. cathy walters April 12, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    love this!!!!

  30. Laurent Egli April 12, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Love this idea, I’ve always had the blank page syndrome and felt guilty about adapting other peoples ideas. But in the end this positive thinking is what makes things happen. I’ll never be Chase :-) but I’m proud to state your name when people ask me about my inspiration.

  31. TimR April 12, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    Especially true for basics too, like composition, rule of thirds, jib shots, helicopter shots, two shots, tracking shots, jump cuts, long, short, medium shots, and on and on and on. When you use these, you’re using someone else’s discovery.

    And it’s no more “stealing” than using words from a dictionary is, even though you didn’t come up with the words or the concept of a sentence yourself.

    It’s all part of the language–in our case, visual language.

  32. Michael Montalto April 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    Other than James Bond…who is cooler than Chase Jarvis? Seriously…..name me just ONE person! I’m so humbled to learn from Chase.

  33. Christian Held April 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    As long as you mention that your project was inspired by someone than I don’t have a problem with it rather than seeing something and copying it without mentioning the source.

    If I was to create something different based on the same idea than I would mention that person xyz inspired me and this would be my own interpretation. I wouldn’t go along and copy your ground control work and mark it as brand new or as my own created work. Same with tire tracks. Can’t remember who that was but steal but be honest and let people know where you got your inspiration from.

  34. LEAH April 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    This is so true. People “steal” ideas from each other alllll the time then act like it was their own original idea. There’s nothing wrong with getting inspiration from other’s work, just as long as you’re not a complete copycat.

  35. Glen Graham April 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    Beautifully put my friend I love it…

  36. Shea April 12, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    The eighth commandment should be inserted in that quote
    Lazy non-innovative people steal
    your inspration shouldn’t come from what you’ve seen
    but rather from what you you’ve never seen

  37. Nick Funke April 12, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    I don’t really hate to believe this as a photographer. All work is influenced somehow, someway and rotates in a cycle. This is true for all forms of art, or “art”. Take fashion. Pieces of fashion keep “coming back” (of course way more quickly than “real” art). It’s human nature and very hard to avoid. If an earning professional didn’t steal, or use the fancy word, “was influenced by ______”, they would be exactly the opposite, a low-life-granola-unique-free-to-be-you-and-me “artist” (ahem…Pardon my quotations, hehe)

  38. Sam April 13, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    Seth Godin wrote about something similar recently – thought you might be interested if you didn’t catch it: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/03/originality.html

    • c.d.embrey April 13, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      From Seth Godin’s blog ^^^^
      ” … The other doesn’t hesitate to point out that I’ve never had an original idea in my life, and that I’m merely a promotional hack.”

      Sound like any photographers you know ? :D

      I’ve said for years “only steal from the best” and I’ve never had any pro disagree :D The secret is don’t steal and than claim to have invented it., ’cause there are old pros who have seen it come and go out of fashion several times :D and they may call you on it.

  39. Michelle Moore April 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Was this blog post a “stolen” idea from Kleon?

  40. Justin Eaton April 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Everyone is influenced by somebody :D

  41. Sent from the past February 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    You have a way of writing compelling data that sparks considerably interest.

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