A question that people often ask me is where I get my ideas. Personally, I think this is a stupid sentiment because it implies that I just pop down to Target and pick up a big bag of ideas.

This dude wishes he was clever enough to come up with the title of this post.

This dude wishes he was clever enough to come up with the title of this post.

The truth is that I don’t think any creative person knows where they get their inspiration from. One minute, they’re staring off into space and the next they’re struck with the idea for their next great painting (or story or song or sculpture…).

But I also don’t believe that the Muses come down from their thrones on Olympus and bless the worthy with impulses to create. I think there’s a middle ground that creative forces occupy.

I would go so far to say that all creative endeavors are a reaction, either to real life, another creative endeavor, or a combination of the two. Every original concept is borrowed (stolen) from someplace else.

That isn’t to say that everything is plagiarized. In fact, the difference between the regular creative process and plagiarism is the fact that an artist admits that they are stealing from someplace else and hopes that (at least some of) the audience will recognize the roots of their creation, while a plagiarist hopes that the audience will not recognize the roots of their creation and that the work will be solely attributed to them.

The fact is that we are inspired by everything around us. Snippets of conversation heard on the subway. Opening lines of our favorite novels. Interactions taken out of context and at face value. Walks through the park on a sunny day.

The most surprising thing about this is not the fact that artists steal from their day to day lives. That is the least surprising bit of all and anybody with at least a couple of brain cells flickering in their skulls should realize that one. However, I can understand the fact that artists take from other artist can be startling.

The thing that many people fail to remember about the world is that everything is derivative. Everything is built upon everything else. While this rule applies heavily to art, it also governs science, technology, and politics. Because of the way we perceive time, that is the only way we can streamline things: by adapting and reapplying what we liked and what worked and what went well and discarding what didn’t. Though the effects of this concept are more tangible and visible in the sciences and humanities, the arts also abide by this law.

Look at the evolution of paintings: things went from Realism, where images where painted in an effort to capture how they were in everyday life, to Impressionism, where the impression of the object was the subject of a painting with less focus on the realistic form of the object, then Post-Impressionism and Expressionism, where the form of an object was distorted even more by the emotional lens of the painting, then to Cubism, an experimental art form made famous by the likes of Picasso where distortion was the main event, then to Surrealism and Dadaism, where shit just got weird.

This is only a fraction of the timeline of the evolution of one school of art, but the point remains: the painters all built off of one another’s work. There was a dialogue of art, with responses and attacks and homages flying back and from one another.

I guess there’s one thing to take away from this rant: only a fool chases the specter of an original idea because there is no such thing. Everything builds on everything else and scientists aren’t the only one who stand on the shoulders of giants.