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  • Writer's pictureMark Whitten

Copy Til Create

Updated: Jan 27, 2020

I've always been a thief. A copier. An impersonator. A mimicker. Borrowing from one source, mining ideas from another, mashing them up, hitting the puree button, pouring it into a cool, tall glass and calling the concoction my own.

Heck, we all do it. Especially "creatives" (by the way, I hate that word because we are all creative, made in the image of a very creative Creator), or as we used to call them, artists and musicians.

Originality is really a ruse. When we drill-down to the source of our creativity, we find a vault of inspiration, other than our own. We mix it up just enough to make it look like something truly, original.

But hey, this shouldn't be discouraging. Quite the opposite! It's liberation! When we come to rest in the reality that "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9), we can begin to have fun again.

I only remember a few things about the third-grade: my teacher Mr. Gann who wore pink and purple button-down shirts with accompanying suspenders and leather dress shoes. He showed us a green paddle with holes drilled into it every square inch or so for aerodynamics, which we never saw him use. There was also the brand new, gold-painted Pontiac Fiero, that he paraded his class around in the parking lot the day after he bought it.

The other thing I remember about third-grade is copying our favorite characters from comic books on notebook paper (on plain-white paper if we were really lucky). The real treasure came when one of your buddies slipped you a sheet of trace paper. It was like striking gold. With trace-paper you could become a legend, copying Mighty Mouse to a tee...every bulging mini-mouse muscle.

With the help of Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, my creativity has experienced a sort of Lazarus moment. Somewhere along the line to adulting, we buy into a lie that unless we are original, we're nothing. And so we stop creating, because we find it too taxing to find anything truly original. We forget the freedom of copying. Maybe it was the pointy-nosed librarian who threatened us with arrest for not citing our sources or the English teacher who deadened us with creating a bibliography? Maybe we just figured that creativity and originality were one-in-the-same. They're not.

The French writer Andre Gide said, "Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again."

Kleon says, "If we're free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it."

"It's better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected." ~Mark Twain

A friend of mine named Josh Wentz painted this amazing likeness of Mark Twain InstaGram @joshwentzart

We can be creative. And we can borrow from others.

As children we copied and imitated everything! Whether it was a comic book character on trace-paper, a funny line from Saturday Night Live, or a slam-dunk move from Dominique Wilkins on a 7-foot goal in our driveway, we were all thieves.

With so much creative expression inundating us through Social media, we might be tempted to think that the world doesn't need anymore water color paintings or weird metal doesn't need anymore books or words or architectural designs. Don't believe the lie. The world needs what you have.

"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:14 NIV Emphasis Added) We are his glory. It's what's in us. Our creative passions and expressions are His glory revealed to the earth. It's our duty to fill the earth with them! We are reflections of our Creator.

Didn't Saint Irenaeus say something like, "The glory of God is man fully-alive"? We can only truly be alive when we are giving expression to our child-like creativity. Read my post Creator's creators.

Jesus said we have to become like little children to enter into the Kingdom reality. Children create: building and drawing and destroying and building and drawing miniature empire after another. The world needs what you have yet to release through your creativity.

Funny thing is, that the only way we get to have what you offer, is when you start borrowing from that which is not yours.

So be free again to steal...until you've built a big enough war-chest of influence to produce a mash-up that's truly you. Even the Beatles started as a cover band.

I'll leave you with this quote from Austine Kleon, "Nobody is born with style or a voice. We don't come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.

We're talking about practice here, not plagiarism - plagiarism is trying to pass someone else's work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. it's like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works." (From Steal Like an Artist)

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

~1 Corinthians 11:1

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