Good artists copy, great artists steal.  – Pablo Picasso

I’ve always hated this quote.  It’s a surprising thing for an artist of Picasso’s caliber to say.  It’s equally annoying when guys like Steve Jobs parrot it, as though its some kind of tech-hipster credo.

In both cases, the quote takes what should be a call for artists to create quality, unique work and turns it inside out, telling artists “be just like the other guy, we’ll think you’re clever.”  Sometimes it provides lazy artists the chance to hide behind something.

Sometimes it gives uninspired artists validation for their work, however having been one of these from time to time I’d rather err on the side of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery (thank you Charles Caleb Colton).   And with that we get to what great artists really do – influence.

Think of the last time you were truly inspired to create something.  Chances are, that inspiration was the direct result of taking in something you absolutely loved.  You wanted to put something into the world that made others feel as good as you felt.  That’s the creative process at its most pure and effortless state, and that influence is what makes an artist great.

Even if you don’t chase the urge to create yourself, you may want to consume more from an inspiring artist.  There’s a reason certain things acquire a loyal, passionate (and often profitable) audience.  There’s a reason certain artists take great pains to be unique and authentic and try hard not to compromise their vision.

When artists are encouraged to believe simply copying someone else is enough, they give up on being influencers.  They give up on being great.

Photo by Matthieu Comoy on Unsplash