Do You Steal…Like An Artist?

I bought myself a present. I love the writer/artist Austin Kleon. He has a new book, Steal Like An Artist Journal. I’m flipping through the pages, seeing a little of everything. 

The first image I came across relates to scribes so well. Kleon describes simply the difference between plagiarism and creative repurposing. He calls it good theft and bad theft. And he compares the two. 

This is relevant for scribes because the way we create scrolls may come close to what he calls “Bad Theft”. Bad theft to Kleon is stealing from one source, without any alteration or remixing. Or degrading the original work.

Manesse Codex Inspiration
My work. 

I’ve come close to this myself. I love the Manesse Codex. As I’ve posted before, it’s a leading reason why I became an illuminator. I changed the heraldry, used different materials, reversed the image, removed the frame, but its source is obvious. 

Sure the creators are long gone. Many are even unknown to researchers. And Wikimedia says on their file “attribution not legally required.” The original creators won’t know. 

But…the current manuscript holders should be credited. Some care because they use the manuscripts to make books they sell currently like The Getty does. It’s their income.

“Good Theft” isn’t exactly theft. It’s prompting you to create something new inspired by the works of others. You honor the originators’ works by creating something well done in a similar manner to their art. You study their details and information, combining several motifs and remixing them to fit well together. Whatever the style, you transform them into something completely original and beautiful. 

In the book I just bought, Kleon says, 

Your job, then, becomes to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by. 

The more manuscript images you view the more motifs and inspirations you have within your head to remix into a new beautiful scroll. So, go on and steal like an artist.  

Related Prior Post:
Throwback Thursday: My 2004 Manesse Codex Inspired Scroll

Medieval image: Meister des Codex Manesse (Grundstockmaler) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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