Magic Monday: Copycats. The Response.

Last week I posed a quote by the infamous Pablo Picasso,

“Bad artists copy.  Great artists steal.”


It isn’t uncommon for me to hear from other pro photographers or students, some mild to “not so mild” lamentations about the idea of copying.

It would be dishonest of me to not admit my own struggle with the concept.  I have most certainly been copied.  Those situations make me feel sort of cheapened.  I have also had my ideas stolen.  And that, my friends is different.

But before I briefly expound on my own interpretation, I’d love to share noteworthy excerpts of some of the responses I got from you!

Lindsey says,

“Every artist is a thief. A painter makes a photocopy of God’s sculptures. An author plagiarizes other people’s life. A photographer steals a moment and a memory….

Stealing is taking something with the intent of making it your own. Copying, in its very essence, is a cheap deception made to be discovered–like the knock-off you buy from the guy with the trench coat who mumbles, “hurry before the cops come,” while you peruse his merchandise.”


“It’s all in the heart…The ultimate goal should be a healthy balance of giving and taking inspiration from the creative community.”


I think Picasso is trying to say that if you “copy” someone’s work, do it so well that the work becomes your own. Redefine the whole thing to be your own…


I think what this means is that great artists capture the truth of what exists. They do so well, that the very soul of their subject is presented in their work. A good artist doesn’t just reproduce what is there, he steals the very essence of his subject.

Such great thoughts!

The common theme through everyone’s response seems to separate the act of copying and stealing with the crowning difference of “making your art your own.”

Its true, we will never be 100% original in life.

Our ideas and conclusions–inspiration, if you will– are a product of all of our inputs: what we read, what we see, our personal environment, our hobbies and interests, our knowledge and training, our life experiences both good and bad… all of these elements act as inputs in our minds and hearts and sort of cook and simmer inside of us until they are completely baked in an original recipe of what we chose to draw from in our vast ingredient list.

When we copy another artist, we miss out on giving our art some soul.

We may give it a body, but soul comes from all the deeper meaning of the ‘why’s’ in the choices that were made in the original.  The why’s of the technical side, the why’s of the spiritual, psychological, the whys of having a true intent and message,… pretty much all the preparation and inspirational conclusions the artist took to get to the final product that we may not actually see overtly, but can feel in the authenticity of the creation.

The  Why’s don’t have to be earth shatteringly profound and deep, but having reason behind our choices is important.

I recall my early stages of photography…my “copy stage” (which btw, is a great beginning educational stage to start out in as long as we have the goal to move on eventually), where my choices were based off what I had seen others do and I felt compelled to follow as an act of expectation.  I chose plenty of locations, styles, poses, props, composition, not because I had any real reason for doing so besides trend.

A whole new satisfying world opened up to me when I began to put reason into my choices.  Why do I want this location? Why should I pose this way? Why should I use this prop? Do these choices reflect who or what I am photographing in the most meaningful or powerful way that I can?  Why? The same can be true of any art form.  WHY are we making these choices?

Its the why that helps bring authenticity.  Its absence leaves only a soul-less attempt at something that could have been great, but isn’t.

Bring on the soul, baby!


Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah.  She steals ideas from books, conversations, journaling, trial and error, more books, and much too deep introspection and the search for meaning in all things.  She should probably lighten up.  There are some definite times where “no reason at all” is plenty of reason as well.

Brooke teaches private photography lessons , online photography classes, as well as seasonal photography classes in Logan, Utah.

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