If we strictly look at the meaning of the word, plagiarism means taking someone else's work and claiming it is your own. It is not just stealing; it is more vicious and twisted. Like admitting you have no ideas for yourself.
Yet most creatives are plagiarists. They don't even realise it.
I have recently read an article by writer Robert Cormack stating that most writers are plagiarists. I agreed with nearly every word. The act of creating is more about remembering than it is about making something new, more about inspiration than pure creation. You can't be surprised that you're not getting published if you don't have anything to say.
But where my views and good Robert's differ is possibly in the way he sees inspiration - or, at least, in the way the topic comes across from his piece. There is nothing wrong in remembering – it all depends on the way you remember and employ that inspiration in your creative process.
Image credit: Sinelab
Inspiration is a wild beast
All the most successful artists learn to work with a reference very early on. They only know one thing for sure: it's not about copying the picture, it's about drawing inspiration from it.
But inspiration is a volatile sweet little thing and can mean different things to different people. Some study the source blindly in colours, structure and even some details, while others prefer to use it as more of a compositional guide. There is no hard-and-fast rule to getting inspired. It simply doesn't work the same for everyone.
When I personally write my stories, I embrace inspiration and remembrance as an old friend. Everything I've ever read, everything I've ever felt, it is all right there. From books to games and even beyond, every piece of work I've ever seen will be poured into my next creation in some way, unless of course it didn't leave any mark at all.
But even then, I do believe that the worst pieces of art can still teach you how not to do art. That there is an unspeakable bliss in learning from your mistakes – or the ones of others.
The worst pieces of art can still teach you how not to do art
Every writer struggles with finding a voice, just as much as a designer or illustrator does to find their own style. It is a long, arduous process of discovery, a journey which only you can make. But you'd be surprised how many elements in your style, or even the style of those you look up to, are made from something that came before.
And yet you'll often hear that there is a crisis of creativity in advertising. Ads are looking dull, brands are looking duller, and that is because we tend to chase numbers over people. We tend to forget that the best art comes from empathy and from human connection – something our favourite pieces of creativity show very well.
We love Lovecraft because his characters are mentally disturbed. We admire Edgar Allan Poe for the same reason. We dream of Oscar Wilde because of Dorian Gray. And Quentin Tarantino, John Milton, Hideo Kojima, David Gilmour, William Shakespeare, Alanis Morissette or Leonardo Di Caprio – it doesn't matter. We look up to these people because their art is deeply, profoundly human.
There is nothing wrong in having heroes. They are the ones who strengthen your identity, after all – I wouldn't be who I am without the countless hours I spent reading my favourite authors. And your identity is all you need to find your artistic voice, isn't it?
Image Credit: Stephen Berry
Why all creatives are plagiarists
All creatives are plagiarists. We look at art, we absorb it, we reimagine it. We make it our own, but not like real plagiarists do – we nurture it and cradle it until it grows into a full idea that contains both the source material and our love for it. By creating, we pay a tribute to those who came before us. Every work of art is a mark in history.
But in one respect especially I agree with the good Robert from earlier: most artists don't know who they are. They cradle themselves in their so-called talent, endlessly venturing into countless dull works that may make them feel special and may even gain popular consensus. And then one day, in the words of a famous Pink Floyd song, "ten years have got behind them;" they missed the starting gun, and they don't know where they are anymore.
Most creatives don't know what story they want to tell. And that is not necessarily because they are inherently dull, or because they don't know better. It is not even due to a congenital mediocrity. Because of this dangerous impostor syndrome most of us carry, we strive to please others. Often forgetting that we should first and foremost be happy with ourselves.
We strive to please others. Often, forgetting about our own selves.
Plagiarism – the real kind, the one that steals ideas – is bad. It shows lack of creative energy and humanity, and it takes away all the love for your own craft, leaving only a dull copy of the source material. Richard Holman wrote a brilliant piece here on Creativepool about his own experience with plagiarism, and it is never, ever pleasant for anyone.
But you shouldn't be afraid to look up to your heroes. You shouldn't be worried to look at other pieces of art and say: "I want to be like this artist." You shouldn't be worried to think of all your influences and passions and let them come together into your own art. With time, your voice will take shape. With time, you'll realise you didn't need to be like your heroes – you need only to be your own.
So long as you never steal from others, and you found your art on a genuine human love for anything creative.