Plagiarism or theft?

Kees van Aalst
Said Hamlet to Ophelia: “I’ll draw a sketch of thee, what kind of pencil shall I use? 2B or not 2B?”

Would a charge of plagiarism by Shakespeare be successful in this case? I doubt it.

When you give a creative twist to an existing thing, such as here, the courts are often inclined to be

But literal copying is a different story, in fine art as much as in literature. Don’t do it, that’s all I need
to say.

In this ultrashort exploratory article, I’m not going to talk about successful thieves from art history
such as Warhol or Lichtenstein, nor about the forgers’ guild that is only interested in monetary gain.

Instead, I want to find out how you can draw inspiration from other people’s work without literally
copying it.


Existing images are often utilized in the art world. No one creates something from nothing. There are
always influences, but a creative artist knows how to alter that influence in such a way that it
becomes part of his or her own work virtually unnoticeably.

Picasso had a strong opinion about stealing other people’s products. “Good artists copy, great artists
steal” was his thesis. Copying is plagiarism, it’s not very creative. By stealing, you appropriate the
work and make it your own. Originality then becomes skillfully disguised imitation. After all, the point
isn’t where you get your ideas, but what you do with them.

So don’t be ashamed to use other people’s work as a source of inspiration. Collect images of work
that speaks to you, and use them as a catalyst and an incentive to improve your own work. You’ll be
more driven, more proficient in this way, resulting in work that has its own style and character.

Finally, a few tips:

● Set the bar high. For inspiration, study the works of great artists you admire, not the
dabblings of wellmeaning amateurs. Those don’t teach you anything.
● You could consider it a kind of honor when others imitate your work.

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