You know what it feels like with a great book. It takes you on a journey through a new world with characters so real that you shed tears when they do. And it takes your breath away.
That’s what I want my words to do, you say. I want to write like that author. Or paint like that artist, sound like that pianist. You task yourself with dutifully copying your idol’s turn of phrase, style, and voice with casual confidence that this is the path to greatness. Many artists of our time have stated, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
So, you steal.
This is one of those occasions where the wise thing said could have been said better. For example, if asked, “Have you heard my latest meisterstuck?” one might answer, “Fabulous! I absolutely loved it,” even if it sounded more like the mewling of a drunken cat.
Then, if the listener compliments the dress worn by the cat loving composer, she may say, “Oh, this old thing,” while feeling secretly gorgeous.
Making art that makes a difference is not a place for poorly worded advice. Words should be honored at their face value or their worth is quickly dissipated leaving more people sneaking out at intermission. The best wisdom is a kind of distilled truth, dispensed briefly and delivered boldly.
Stealing is what thieves do. Borrowing, for the purpose of creating something new, is what artists do.
So, creative readers, I say to you, “Good artists steal, great artists borrow.”