“Steal Like an Artist”, by Justin Kleon is an engaging and thought provoking look at the origins of and stimulus to creativity. It centers mainly on authors, but clearly has resonance for all those involved in the passion of creating. Published by Workman in 2012, I was delighted to find it on Hitomi Gilliam’s worktable out in Vancouver.
“Art is Theft” is a famous quote from Pablo Picasso. Kleon points out that there is nothing new under the sun. All creativity builds on previous creativity. As floral designers we are always asked where did you get your inspiration? When working on a design, do you think to yourself, have I seen this somewhere?
When we teach floral design we often demonstrate a design for the class to emulate. Everyone has the same materials, vase and mechanics. Some students may ‘get it’ right away and go on to make the design in their own style. Others will want to copy it as closely as possible to put their heads around it. There is no wrong way about this – only what helps you best.
It is like an artist copying a master painting, trying to learn the ropes, the secrets of technique, so to speak. While you are trying to get them in your head, it is easier to keep to what the teacher taught. One European designer I know, was very miffed, during a US workshop he taught, when a couple of students really changed direction with the design. He asked them, “was there something about this design you didn’t like”?!
This design was inspired by an article in Fleur Creatif, a very stylish floral design magazine out of Belgium (which can be ordered through www.floristreview.com). I posted about creating this design in ”Curling Up” (Archives May 2014).
I made it a second time eliminating the square base for a circular form. When I went to find the copy of the magazine to be sure of the issue, I was surprised to see how different mine were. Initially I had absorbed my idea of the design and it didn’t occur to me (or I was too lazy) to search out the original.
Jane Godshalk and Cres Motzi of the much missed “Bouquets in Motion” have a wonderful truism: one needs to do something three times to make it one’s own. First time, to just figure out how it all works.
Second, now that it is understood to perfect it. This design was created for the Walters Art Museum. In the close-up you can see the added Gloriosa lilies. The how-to is in “Paper Weavers“, (Archives, June 2013). The ‘mulch’ is brown yarn.
Doing it a third time you really start to make it your own. As neither of the previous two designs were used in a flower show, it was time for the design to pay its’ way…left, in the GCA Centennial Flower show in a class called “Dominance” and right, a judges invitational exhibit at Litchfield GC.
I’ve wandered far from “Steal like an Artist” but I urge you to have a look at it when you are next in a museum store or bookshop. I hope to delve more into his thoughts in future posts. And I’ll leave you with T. S. Eliot, as quoted in Kleon’s book – just substitute floral designer for poet: “Immature poets imitate; successful poets steal; bad poets deface what they take and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.”