Is Creativity Theft?

Here is a provocative quote on the nature of creativity by the American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch:

“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.’"

What might make you bristle when you read this is his use of the word "steal" - which of course is something we have all been trained to recoil from and think of as wrong and sinful.

But Jarmusch is not telling people it's OK to rip off one particular idea or image from a fellow creator. He is talking about the true essence of creativity - in which we amalgamate all our influences and what I call our "visual vocabulary" (the sum total of all the images we have processed in our memory) into our new creations ( or, as I often tell my students "Use everything at your disposal"). Art is not created in a vacuum of ideas..

Of course, the last quote from Godard is a key qualifier "It's not where you take things from, it's where you take them to.

left -” Pietà” by Sofonisba Anguissola , right - “Pieta in Gangland” by Thomas Dodd

left -” Pietà” by Sofonisba Anguissola , right - “Pieta in Gangland” by Thomas Dodd