Copying is a creativity killer

I had a recent experience, the details of which aren’t necessary to get into for this post despite their high entertainment value.  The experience solidified my viewpoint on the subject of copying, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you, my readers, in a way that would provoke, engage, and encourage some good dialogue.

Real art is based on one’s own experiences, observations, and imagination. We are also influenced by the work of other artists.  And every artist has his or her own ideation or thinking process they use to get to their answer.  Art is therefore very personal and artists become emotionally vested in their work.  In the marketing world, a creative idea or a story can become as personal as a painting one has worked on for weeks or a song one has written in a few hours.  When others copy your art, it kills creativity, of both the artist and the copier.  Because copying is just regurgitating the answer, not understanding the thinking and ideation process that was behind the answer.  The next level of creative thinking isn’t possible when the answer is copied.

When I go to Michael’s studio to learn how to paint, I am not just learning technique. I am learning and copying his best practices:  thinking through sequences (lights and darks first, then hue), practicing routines and habits (wipe the brush constantly!), questioning process (no, that stained glass effect I love doesn’t work on this current painting).  I learn very little if I go to class and sit and copy Michael’s technique and stare at his finished paintings.

The same applies to marketing.  Copying a creative idea, message, or point-of-view is a shortcut.  It eliminates the questioning, the ideation, the development, the internalization, the destruction, the regeneration, the speculation, the experimentation, the testing, the piloting, the demonstration, the teaching, the evangelism, the mistakes, the victories, the learning, the going back to the drawing board and starting the cycle all over again until art emerges.  To not go through this process kills creativity.  The original idea is no longer inspiration, or motivation, or an activator of creativity.  Instead, it becomes a dependency and teaches dependency, not creativity.

Instead, one should copy the process or questions the artist or marketer worked with – not the answer.  Artists are generous with their processes because we know that they can strengthen others’ abilities to discover and create.  Creativity is a process that requires making ideas your own.  If one doesn’t go through the process, one doesn’t experience the euphoria of getting to the answer.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Copying is a creativity killer

Add yours

  1. What’s the saying…there it is… “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
    Your point is very interesting, because you are telling us that the trick is to steal *relevant* art, which implies introspection and consideration, which is why great artists are rare.
    I steal a slightly different take: if I have seen farther, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants. It is important to contribute back into the community from which you steal. :v)
    Thanks, I enjoyed reading this!


  2. Thanks Paul! Great comments! Notice I used the word “copy”, not “steal”. In fact, my first reaction was that I was robbed. But then I realized I wasn’t. Thieves don’t borrow or rent, they make the stolen item their own. Making an idea I steal my own means I noodle over it, improve it, internalize it, etc. The result is something better. Copiers don’t do that. They just copy. There’s no value-add. Therefore it’s not real art to copy. So, I agree with you: steal and go through the creative process of making it better and give back. Copycats do themselves and the community a disservice.


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