Really? That seems to be a pretty bold statement.
These words, “all art is theft”, are frequently used by my dad. I don’t know if he got the phrase from someone. He isn’t sure if he did. But anyway, what’s the occasion for such a phrase? Whenever my sister and I feel like an idea or event in one of our stories sounds too similar to somebody else’s. You might just be thinking, “Well, your dad is probably just saying that to make you feel better.” Maybe. That could be a part of why he says it. But I think that’s only a very small part of it.
The phrase “all art is theft” is definitely not untrue (yes, that’s a double negative for emphasis). Most generally speaking, we all get our ideas from somewhere. We are always inspired by something, and these things fuel our imagination, and our imagination fuels our will, and from our will we produce our writing. “An obvious statement, but no less true because of it” to quote Glaedr from Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. So, in a sense, all art is theft…or “borrowing”, if you like that term better. I can’t try to describe a forest without first seeing one for myself, and thereafter, from the forest’s own beauty, depict a forest entirely of my creation with it’s own kind of beauty, separate from that which it was inspired, but still inspired by the original forest all the same (#mouthful#wordy).
How many times have you based the appearance of a character off of someone in your life, or a movie actor/actress? How many times has a specific, epic fight scene in your own story contained choreography that resembles that of a movie you recently watched?
Something else my dad has said about all art being theft is that, as time progresses, it will become harder to create new story ideas that haven’t already been thought of. Think about it. Two thousand years from now, two thousand years’ worth of story ideas will have been taken, and add that to the millions of years that have already passed….it will get harder to think up truly original ideas.
So what’s the good news? It’s okay for all art to be theft.
Sometimes the most impressive stories are that which combine the ideas of others into something even better. That’s what we can do now as writers of the 21st century. Using the ideas of someone else, tweaking them a bit, and applying them to your own work, isn’t even necessarily stealing. It’s a talent to be able to recognize the good and beauty in the work of others and being able to see it’s potential in regards to applying it to your work.
Now don’t get me wrong. Be original, if you can be. But if you happen to realize that your ideas resemble that of someone else, don’t get too discouraged. Make it your own. But be content with sharing. And maybe that’s what we should call this; not stealing, not copying, not using: sharing.