Licensed To Steal (Artist As Collector)

I’ve been thinking about what I should write for today pretty much all of my waking hours this past week.

Sometimes I chew on a theory for months (anticipating the date to share it with you), other times the theory appears in a flash of light. And sometimes theories just work themselves out naturally in the moment and I kind of surprise myself with the results.

It’s a similar experience that many artists have when they create work. Nothing happens perfectly, but relying on moments of inspiration is incredibly draining and risky in terms of output. That is why it is so incredibly important to set up a routine and a space that works for the individual, so that bursts of creativity can happen naturally and “seemingly” spontaneously and the disciplined efforts can cover of those moments of creative silence.

It really is amazing that our unconscious minds are working in our favour though when you stop to think about it.

We organize information, experience, and our interests to produce something special, and if we do it correctly, we create a work of art which looks and feels unique, whatever the source of inspiration.

The reason why I’ve been thinking about this process today is because I have this theory that all good artists steal ideas (not an original idea either), but the best ones steal from everyone and everything in their lives. They do this because of an honest appreciation for life and an attachment for what already exists in the world.

To put it simply, every artist is a collector. On the surface it could appear that they store objects, but the reality is that they have enduring love for the object(s) which house much more than the literal contents we observe in passing.

This TED Talk by Austin Kleon details the point quite well.

Nothing is original. All art, from the bad to the great, references what came before it.

So why do critics sometimes comment as if we should operate in a vacuum? I’m not entirely sure. I think it is likely that nuanced truths are harder to swallow than obvious ones, if I am being perfectly honest. Which can be a full blown topic for another Stimulating Sunday.

But that is not what today is about.

Today is about the theory of artist as collector. And the inspiration for today’s post is from a very talented artist who I am sure you have heard of at one point or another, whether you like their work or not.

Here is a sample of my favourite song from the record.

Walking through a crowd
The village is aglow
Kaleidoscope of loud heartbeats
Under coats
Everybody here wanted something more
Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before
And it said

Welcome to New York
It’s been waiting for you
Welcome to New York
Welcome to New York
Welcome to New York
It’s been waiting for you
Welcome to New York
Welcome to New York

It’s a new soundtrack I could dance to this beat, beat
Forevermore
The lights are so bright
But they never blind me, me
Welcome to New York
It’s been waiting for you
Welcome to New York
Welcome to New York

I’ve highlighted particular lines because I think they are especially relevant for the topic at hand.

This song is from the album 1989 by Taylor Swift. Yes, that’s right.

But that’s not what I was listening to on the drive home to Edmonton from my girlfriend’s parents home in Lacombe today. I was listening to Ryan Adam’s cover album, also titled 1989, with the exact same number of tracks, with almost identical lyrics, in the same song order.

Let’s break this thing down for a minute.

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Taylor Swift, who is incredibly talented, let Ryan Adams, who is also incredibly talented, “steal” her work and create his own version of it.

In fact, she gave her instant approval, when he asked. She is a genius.

If you think about it for a second, there have been reviews claiming he did a better version of her work, and that he made it more meaningful.

I call bullshit on that. But not for the reasons that lots of people are.

He was a vehicle that proved how powerful her lyrics really are to everyone, whether people choose to see it or not, is a completely different matter.

This is especially important to note for those who don’t listen to her music and pass if off for cookie cutter pop. Taylor Swift is an incredibly talented songwriter. Period.

And, she gracefully pointed that out with her title track, without being a jerk about it.  Let me illustrate – while we might all be “searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before,” 99% of the time, the sound already exists. It’s because someone loved it, and made art about it, that we can appreciate it the new art. 1989 by Ryan Adams is a great album, but it wouldn’t exist without 1989 by Taylor Swift, and Taylor’s is definitely the better album because she made something “original” without making it obvious what she “stole” from to get inspiration.

And she understands that sharing is caring.

My girlfriend, who is a super fan of Taylor Swift, realized this brilliance of TSwift years ago, I’m finally starting to see it myself. I hope that other creative types make that leap sooner than later, and I also hope that everything I just stole from makes this post worthwhile. And that’s all of the theories I’ve got for tonight.

What do you think? Leave comments!

Tim!

 

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