Friday, May 13, 2011

Artists as Thieves: Some Thoughts on the Creative Process That I Stole from Some Other Creative People

Giant Amazing Cheeseburger Pillow, Mokuyobi,

Cheeseburger Print, Homemade Pop,

Burger and Fries Apron, Snappy Shop,

Cheeseburger Necklace, It's Time for Tea,

Tiny Cheeseburger Love Tote, The Tote Trove,

Earlier this week I read an interesting post on Tracey Knits' blog,, spotlighting "Steal Like an Artist," an article by Austin Kleon. The article discusses how artists steal each other's ideas to create better art. Before you get your panties in a bunch, rest assured that neither Kleon, Tracey, nor myself are advocating out-and-out plagiarism. Rather, "Steal Like an Artist" is about building upon an existing concept to make it your own. Take this collection of cheeseburger-themed goodies I found on Etsy. The creator of each drew upon the pop culture favorite as the focal point of his or her creation. And why not? Cheeseburgers make people happy, evoking memories of family vacations, high school date nights, and backyard BBQs. I'd be hard-pressed to name the first artist to incorporate this fast food favorite into a household item or fashion accessory. And yet, each person who makes a necklace festooned with plastic cheeseburger charms or a sweater embroidered with an image of the beefy treat undoubtedly thinks herself or himself to be creating something new and funky. (I know I do.) Does this mean that we're a bunch of deluded hacks flooding the market with unoriginal goods? Of course not. It means that we decide what we like and then recycle those things into objects that protray our own interpretations of them. Writing works this way too. If you've ever read a bunch of books by the same author and then wrote something yourself only to have it reflect some of that author's tone, style, word choice, whatever, then you know what I'm talking about. As Kleon himself writes, there's "nothing new under the sun." But that doesn't mean that it all doesn't shine. (Hey, what self-respecting cheeseburger art post closes without a cheesy sentence?)


Vanessa said...

Well I wouldn't classify any of these pieces as "stolen" ideas, they're all lovely and fun and original in their own ways! :)

The Tote Trove said...

Hi, Vanessa. Yes, the word "stolen" does have a bit of a negative connotation, doesn't it? I think maybe the author of the article used the language of thievery to get a reaction. Which obviously worked! Glad you enjoyed the pics :)