Have you heard the quote “Good artists copy, great artists steal”?
Well it turns out that great artists copy and steal. I would never have thought artists like Van Gogh or Francis Bacon would create anything that wasn’t a complete original. Thats just not true.
They both have recreated other artists work. I keep finding myself walking into a gallery and saying “Blimey, that looks familiar.”
I wish I had discovered this sooner. Comparing two artists interpretation of the same thing has changed the way I think and feel about art. All the years I have spent blankly looking at art, wondering what the hell it was all about, could have been different.
In 2008 I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. In the final gallery, I became entranced with a small painting Van Gogh of a woman in a barn. It wasn’t anything exciting. In fact it would normally be one of those paintings that I gave a passing glance to and moved on.
Instead, I stopped. Hanging next to the Van Gogh was Millet’s (at least, I think it was Millet) original painting. Van Gogh had stolen someone else’s picture. Could he do that? Apparently.
I am surprised I wasn’t more outraged that a great painter had stolen someone else’s work rather than copying from real life. It almost seems sacrilegious that a brilliant artist would need to experiment using someone else’s idea first.
I wasn’t outraged at all. Placing the two works together gave me greater emotional connection and understanding than looking at a single work. The paintings were contextually stronger together, rather than apart.
The same applied again for a Van Gogh and a Francis Bacon (see more greats stealing!) and not to forget Francis Bacon and Picasso both stealing Velasquez.
As an artist, whether with paint or science, there is value in examining someone else’s work, or a series of people’s work to add context and be inspired by them. Stealing other people’s ideas and placing your own spin on them is equally valid, especially when it adds greater context for the viewer.
So go an be inspired by someone’s idea and challenge yourself to apply your style to it. You could be helping others to see things in a whole new way.
Take a look at the comparisons below – what do you see?