Stealing To Be Creative

No one is an island. No one lives in a complete vacuum. This is especially true today with the internet and instant communication & information from around the world. So what's an artist to do but take full advantage of this!

There's a great little book out there (a New York Times best seller) called, Steal Like An Artist. It details various ways to rev up your creativity by stealing ideas from others. This is not blatant copying to pass it off as your own, but stealing ideas to inspire your own ideas. Artists of all genres have been doing this probably for the history of mankind. I know I've always done it and still do.




I think back to when I was younger, stealing a drum beat or a fill off a record of my favorite band. Yeah, all musicians do that. It's a part of the process of learning. We all learn from what's come before us and, as the saying goes, stand on the shoulders of giants. But the real key here is learning to change something, to tweak it and make it our own. I spoke somewhat about this in an earlier post: The Importance of Lineage. I also talked about Modeling in another previous blog post.


But what about raw ideas, fuel for your creative fires—where do you get that?

I use various methods to inspire ideas and creativity. Let me give you a few examples:


  1. I compose a lot of music, sometimes 2 or 3 pieces a week. I use most of that in my teaching because I like to stay fresh. But where do I get my ideas from? Everywhere! If I don't have an idea in my head, like a rhythm, I tend to go through my songs in iTunes. I currently have over 1,500 albums in my iTunes. I have another 5,000 or so CDs in my office, so I don't lack for music. But what I will do when I need an idea is just start playing songs, not necessarily the whole song, as I may skip through it, because I want to cover a lot of territory. I'll give a listen for something interesting for a few seconds, then move on. What I'm looking for is just something that will catch my ear. Maybe a rhythm. Maybe a melody. Maybe just the feeling or atmosphere of the music. I'll listen to rock, pop, metal, chamber music, ethnic music, classical, percussion—anything. Mind you, I'm not looking to copy anything, just looking for an idea to use as a jumping off point. Once I get that idea, I'll run with it.
  2. The same thing goes for my writing, like this blog. If I don't have an idea, I'll read stuff: books, magazines, newspapers, the web (the above referenced blog on Modeling was inspired by something I read on another blog). Again, anything, just to find something that inspires some sort of idea I can work with.
  3. Creativity Files. I keep files of all kinds of notes. Every night I empty my pockets and pull out a few scraps of paper with notes on them. These can be a word, a phrase, a musical rhythm, a complete paragraph, or any sort of idea I've come across. I also use my iPhone and Evernote a lot. I'm always typing notes or taking photos of things that are interesting. Then I put them in Evernote so I can get home and access them from my computer. I also use Post-It™Notes extensively. There are notes stuck up all around my desk with words/phrases/ideas written on them. And there's also a stack of my old pocket notes in a little bin on my desk. Whenever I'm stuck for an idea, I just go through all my notes and look for something that hits me and sparks something. I really can't recommend enough keeping track of all your thought and ideas for later reference.
  4. Go for a walk or drive—get out of the space you are in! I find getting away to new surroundings helps to clear out my mind. And you never know what you will come across out in the world. You may find an idea for something other than what you were looking for, so stay open.
Creativity is all around us. Ideas are all around us. We only need to pay attention to access this wealth of information.

What do you do to inspire your creativity?

~ MB

Addendum: I should also mention the immediate previous post where I gave 3 lists of other people's ideas…

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