Have you ever heard the phrase, "Nothing is Original", or, "Steal Like an Artist"? Well, let me tell you something extremely important. Both of those statements are nonsense!
I mean, what a horribly contrived message! Steal like an artist? I'm guessing this is meant to be partially humorous and partially a metaphor. Artists don't steal because their inspiration comes from existing ideas, that's just not what steal means. Just because I've seen a cat and a fish, it doesn't mean I stole the idea of the catfish. That's absurd. As absurd as saying I stole the idea of the sun by drawing a sunny day, or even by drawing the Sun.
Attempting to alter the context and meaning of "steal" causes confusion, and sends a less than ideal message to people. It's not okay to steal, and moreover, being inspired by something doesn't make you a thief. Also, there is no verifiable evidence that Picasso said, "Good artists copy, but great artists steal". Sorry, Jobs, I'm also still not an Apple fan. In actuality, versions of this quote have been manipulated and contorted over time, with the earliest quote being more along the lines that imitation is worthy of praise, but stealing/copying is unworthy of praise. And that wasn't attributed to Picasso.
On to the other obviously misleading statement. We've all heard something like this, "There's nothing new under the Sun". Just because an idea is built on or inspired by existing ideas, that doesn't mean it's not original. Just because an eagle exists and a lion exists, that doesn't make a griffin unoriginal. It has clear inspiration from other places, but there are no eagles like the griffin and there are no lions like the griffin. It is new and it is original. It's not a copy of either, it's not a version of either.
"Just because an idea is built on or inspired by existing ideas, that doesn't mean it's not original."
I drew a soldier in a space suit, there's obviously nothing original about that, it's clearly __________. Oops. Were you thinking of Doom? Halo? StarCraft? Metroid? Mass Effect? Toy Story? Are they so difficult to differentiate? Then, I suppose all the straight guys are as happy dating Buzz Lightyear as they would be Samus Aran. After all, there's nothing unique and original about her character. Right?
Obviously, I don't think so. I think the true message behind these platitudes is awesome! I just think the way they're read, and sometimes explained, is untrue, and easily misinterpreted. The message behind, "Nothing is Original", is really about the difficulties with creativity. You feel pressure to do something unlike anything that's been seen before, but that doesn't have to come from nowhere. It usually doesn't. Just because we build on existing ideas, that doesn't mean our new, innovative take isn't original. I mean that subjectively, and I mean that literally. It's literally just not what original means. Building on existing ideas does not make you unoriginal.
Allow yourself to be inspired by what you see and what others create, let it motivate you and give you direction. I don't know anything thing about alien planets (I've never been), but I've seen blood, and I've seen microbes that look like trees. Manipulate those ideas, and incorporate them! Now we've got an all new, all original, alien planet. My blood ocean, microbe tree planet is the first of it's kind, and it's built on existing ideas.
"Allow yourself to be inspired by what you see and what others create, let it motivate you and give you direction."
Moving on. Stealing is wrong, obviously. You shouldn't take what isn't yours. As artists, why would we allow a phrase with such negative connotations to be perpetuated? How is that the best way to describe what that phrase is actually asking of us? Look at our alien planet we created (in our minds, don't go looking for it, I want you to finish reading this). We're not stealing those ideas, we're using them as inspiration. I'm not claiming I invented microbes and blood. I made a planet whose traits have the characteristics of microbes and blood. They're not even anyone's specific microbes and blood (say "microbes and blood" one more time!).
So, let's use more positive, appropriate phrases from now on!
We could change "Nothing is Original." to "Be Inspired!"
We could change "Steal like an Artist." to "Use Reference!"
Who in their right mind wants to broadcast that artists are thieves? And then, encourage that behavior?! That's asinine! Worse yet, why the hell are we attempting to crush people's spirits by trying to convince them, falsely, that nothing is original?! That's ludicrous. Creative people express their originality every day! Let your experiences be a reference point to help you build new ideas, and let the creativity around you inspire you! Original ideas happen constantly, spontaneously, and they're built on everything around us. Look around, be inspired, encourage an attitude of positive creative energy by reminding people that everything you see, and do, gives you more power to develop a new, 100% original idea!!!
Digital Arts Instructor