Who Inspires You? (And Why You Should Copy Them)

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Oscar Wilde (among others)

Vincent Van Gogh “Three Sunflowers” 1888

Vincent Van Gogh “Three Sunflowers” 1888

As artists, we are often admonished not to copy but to be original. My response to that? Phooey.

First, the idea of being original is highly overrated in my humble opinion. And second, why not use that passion you feel for Michelangelo or Matisse?

I've written in this blog before about copying or using the Old Masters as inspiration. But a good idea bears repeating, doesn't it?

So here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

Cimabue “ Madonna di Castelfiorentino” circa 1280

Cimabue “Madonna di Castelfiorentino” circa 1280

Borrow color from someone you love. Take Picasso's Blue Period, for instance. Can you create an entire series with just one color? Give it a try and tell me it doesn't stretch your creative muscles.

How about a master class in painting from one of the greats? All you have to do is take a painting you love and copy it stroke for stroke. Do you love Vincent's "Sunflowers"? Great, make a faithful copy of it. You will learn more by doing that than any painting class you will ever attend.

Read Vasari's "Lives of the Artists" at least once for inspiration. The dedication to Cosimo De Medici is worth the read all by itself. You can get a copy for ninety-nine cents on Kindle. Then read Robert Hughes' "The Shock of the New" to balance out Vasari. Top it off with Jed Perl's "New Art City" or anything by him. I've got "Magicians and Charlatans" next on my reading list. I find reading about the artists and their work just as inspiring as looking at the actual work.

Finally, take a look at one my older blog posts about Abstracting from the Old Masters. Not everyone wants to copy Rembrandt line by line, but maybe you will be inspired by a shape or a color from one of his paintings. Or take another artist you love. It doesn’t have to be an old master. Modern master Kehinde Wiley, mid-century master Grace Hartigan, 19th century Japanese master, Hiroshige, Byzantine master Cimabue - they’re all there just waiting for you to copy, copy, copy.

Walk a mile in the shoes of one of the greats and the lessons you learn will last you a lifetime. As Austin Kleon so wonderfully put it "Steal Like An Artist."