Stealing Ideas

May 19, 2015 Forty Rules of Art:

  1. Don’t stand at your desk at the Harvard Graduate School of Design with an open copy of the latest “Glossy Architecture Periodical” cribbing from the hippest published work. School is too expensive and life is too brief for short circuits.
  2. Do not steal ideas from your classmates or your peers unless you are a declared “Appropriation Artist” such as Richard Prince or Sherrie Levine. When you break this rule do it with intensity, brilliance, synthesis as you make this stolen idea your own. Give back more than you take. Fetishizing thievery is passe’
  3. When early in career as you search for inspiration from precursors try to skip a generation or two. Stealing  becomes a more astute reference or a wittier pastiche the further back one reaches.
  4. All creative people who can read must read and understand ( this means re-read) Harold Bloom’s masterpiece The Anxiety of Influence. Every painter, sculptor, poet, architect must understand and internalize the ideas of knowing history and swerving into originality.
  5. If, as a youth, you did not spend hundreds of hours at the foot of mother nature drawing rocks, trees, bees, birds, landscapes, do not despair - lean on those who did: Raphael, Leonardo,  John Ruskin, William Morris,  Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, - read their words and study their work closely. Steal all of their great ideas. If you haven’t done your 1,000 nature hours, you are crippled,  admit it and drive on, doing the best with what you’ve got. It is never too late to profit from a sketchbook.
  6. Picasso was notorious for stealing ideas from his own cohort and from anything painted or sculpted he ever set eyes on. Picasso replied, when accused of thievery “I steal from everyone - I try not to steal from myself.” A great creative mind is a desperate idea vacuum.
  7. Synthesize as you steal. Take five great works from a few generations ago and and disassemble them to explore their generating ideas. Recombine for original effect. Great artists are magpies: Raphael, Chardin, Cezanne, Frank Lloyd Wright, Picasso, Andy Warhol, Paul McCartney.
  8. If stealing, steal those portraits and manufactured objects and household products that have been the beneficiary of thousands of man-years of research, millions of advertising dollars and star-making machinery. Jump on a bandwagon already at full speed like Duchamp, Warhol and Koons.
  9. Nature is a shameless thief, parasite, copycat, predator, devious, malicious, invasive beast who knows that nice guys go extinct. Humans evolved a neocortex to tame this beast, make it work for you. Be relentlessly polite with impeccable manners on the outside and seek the fullness of nature on the inside.
  10. If you are intuitive steal logic and rationality. If you are rational, steal intuition, i.e. if you are a scientist-steal art; if an artist, steal science.
  11. Nature doesn’t give a hoot if you steal from her as she is a vast storehouse of undiscovered ideas.
  12. If you are a painter, don’t steal the look of things but the very being of things. Before you know it you are a biologist, then a chemist then a physicist and a cosmologist-astrophysicist - all artists.
  13. If using oil base paint - ventilate.
  14. “Trumbull’s Rule” Start with a mop - finish with a number 2 filbert.
  15. Be like nature, make a lot of big mistakes early ( see: dinosaurs) conserve all that works ( see: DNA)
  16. After you start a painting, let the painting take over, it knows what it needs - be a good listener to your art.
  17. Don’t be afraid to play God/Cosmo - painting is creation, architecture is creation, poetry is creation
  18. Charles Darwin noted that it is the outliers, mutants and misfits that launch a new species. At least one of them will a perfect fit for a strange new world. Today’s perfectly fit are tomorrow’s forgotten.
  19. Make your art convincing. It is not about the impeccable beauty of the subject it is about intensity and care in the making.
  20. Obsession obscures truth and discovery, it is the crutch of the uninspired, fearful and believe- it -or- not, the lazy.
  21. Vulgarity and overt sex in art is ordinary. We know it sells - so what.
  22. Touch the essence of something - anything
  23. Much of the man-made world is ordinary - seek extraordinary
  24. Make a second version of your excellent idea t prove it isn’t a fluke
  25. Swerve from your own work - evolve - follow your outliers and mutants.
  26. Save money on psychotherapy - allow your art to analyze you.
  27. Art is an athletic pursuit - treat your body well with nutrition and exercise
  28. When afraid move forward.
  29. It is hard to ruin an artwork - make a bold new gesture with a lot of white paint - see what new doors open.
  30. Savor your obscurity - to work uninterrupted is a treasure. It is hard to concentrate when strobes are flashing and microphones are pushed into your face.
  31. Bore yourself - bore your audience.
  32. Every artist has an original vision - swim beyond the shore.
  33. If you have run out of ideas and are at a dead end and still under 23 years of age, join the military. It will provide much new material. Take a sketchbook.
  34. Before taking an art professor ( anyone professing to know more than you) seriously enough to hurt your feelings or redirect your instincts, get to know their operative paradigm. Study what they studied for a minute. Most teachers wish to transmit the outcome of their pain and embarrassment to you.  Don’t be a lump of clay - do some research on their sources and push back.
  35. Don’t mimic nature, be nature. Be the volcano, earthquake, thunderstorm, the forest, flower or buffalo, the field of grass, the electricity. Nature will play levels of the game against one another atoms against tectonic plates.
  36. Make the myths that constitute human culture work for you. Myths are tools.
  37. Don’t mistake being “one with nature” with being one with human nature - they are very different.
  38. Honor small things - they get bigger and many that don’t get bigger will multiply and kill you ( see: microorganisms) Ideas usually start small - give them a chance to grow.
  39. Any fool can start a painting, it takes a master to know when to stop.
  40. Be open to serendipity - sometimes art is easy.