Art is Theft

This is the first of two posts about the importance of attribution, acknowledgement and more. This post focuses on art, the next one will focus on work.

‘Art is Theft’ Pablo Picasso

‘Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’ Jim Jarmusch

‘You don’t sell ideas, ideas are for stealing’. Malcolm McLaren

‘Nothing is original. Steal with pride and acknowledge your inspiration.’ Yours truly, stealing from Pablo Picasso, Jim Jarmusch, Malcolm McLaren, and no doubt, a few others besides.

There’s a widely held notion in the arts world that the theft of ideas is inevitable, and to some extent, even acceptable.

Inspired By

Girl On A BeachI know from my own experience how it feels to be inspired by the work of others. I painted this picture after visiting the Museo Picasso in Malaga, and subsequently, several people have commented that it is Picasso-esque. Although this is an original work, it’s not hard to see where I took my inspiration from, and that taking of inspiration from others, is part of what makes art, art.

Copied From

Here’s another of my sketches. This time, what you can see is a copy of someone else’s work, specifically the pattern on our kitchen curtains. When I blogged this picture on my art website, I made this clear in the accompanying text and linked to the original design.

Curtains Pattern

When you are inspired by something – it can be helpful to acknowledge that inspiration, and when you copy something, I think it really matters to acknowledge the source. There’s a significant difference, isn’t there?

I recently spotted a statement on Facebook about the importance of art. It was on a page run by an artist named Erik Wahl, and the statement seems to be positioned as if it comes direct from him to us. Here is a screenshot of the statement in full.

The purpose of art is not to produce a product. The purpose of art is to produce thinking. The secret is not the mechanics or technical skill that create art - but the process of introspection and different levels of contemplation that generate it. Once you learn to embrace this process, your creative potential is limitless. Artwork should be an active verb (a lens by which to view the world) not a passive noun (a painting that sits dormant in a museum). Creativity lies NOT in the done but in the doing. Art is active and incomplete. Always shifting, always becoming. Art is a sneak peak into the future of potential, of what could be. Not a past result of what has been already done. Art is a process not a product. Art is a human act. Art is Risky. Generous. Courageous. Provocative. You can be perfect, or you can make art. You can keep track of what you will get in return for your effort, or you can make art. You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art. This is the purpose for why art should not be cut from education.

As I read the statement, it feels odd to me, the flow isn’t quite working. Then I’m sure I begin to recognise in it, parts of other people’s work. For example:

‘Creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.’ This is a quote from the artist Julia Cameron. As an aside, a quick Google search revealed this on The High Road Artist blog from 2011. ‘As Julia Cameron says, “Creativity lies not in the DONE but in the DOING… ” It is ACTIVE and incomplete—always shifting, always becoming.’

‘Art is a process not a product.’ MaryAnn Kohl

‘Art is a human act…You can be perfect or you can make art. You can keep track of what you get in return, or you can make art. You can enjoy the status quo, or you can make art.’ Seth Godin

I may be wrong, I often am, and currently I cannot find any attribution or acknowledgement of the work (and/or influence) of others on or around Erik Wahl’s statement. I suppose there is always a possibility that I’ve simply stumbled upon a series of coincidences, in which case fair play to Erik Wahl, but I’m not sure, and to me his statement would have much more power if he had acknowledged his sources. Currently it feels odd that something which, when I last looked, had been shared over 20,000 times, and liked by over 13,000 people, might not be all that it seems. And that’s OK, because art is theft, right?

Year 7 Summer Homework

A couple of weeks ago Siobhan Sheridan shared this photo on Twitter.

Year 7 summer homework


I don’t know if it’s real or a spoof, but this homework grid caught my attention and I’ve decided to adopt it as my own summer homework too. You may think that homework for Year 7 is a little advanced for me, but a lot of this stuff looks like fun, I’m up for the challenge. Some of you may think that homework of any nature, is not fun – that’s fine, I’m not setting this for you – simply sharing it. I’ve completed nine tasks so far (with a little help from Keira) and I’m hoping Siobhan will mark my homework at the end of the holidays.

Since sharing this picture with others myself, one of the pieces of feedback I’m regularly getting is ‘it’s just a bit of fun’. It strikes me that we often use that term in a throw away context, and whilst I’m no fan of trying to force fun on anyone, I think there’s real power in something fun, something playful. I’m grateful to the late Brian Sutton-Smith, a well known play theorist, for coining the term:

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”

Forgive the oxymoron, but I think we need to take play more seriously.

Q: When Is A Human Not A Human?

A: When it’s a resource.

This would be my early bid to take the crown for crap joke of the year, except in the current world of work, it is no joke. An overwhelming number of businesses choose to refer to people not as people, but as resources. Human Resources. According to the great God Google, resources is defined thusly.

Resources: Noun. A stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organisation in order to function effectively.

My curiosity about humans described as resources has been reawakened by a blog post on titled: Airbnb Chief Human Resource Officer Becomes Chief Employee Experience Officer (Warning! Like every article on this one is riddled with irritating adverts, making it exceptionally hard and unpleasant to read. Proceed with caution). I confess my initial reaction to the headline was not altogether positive, then I checked myself. Just because it’s easy to say/refer to Personnel as HR, doesn’t make it the right thing to say. The language we choose to position and describe things is important, and though we need words and actions working together, what we say about something, powerfully shapes the subsequent conversation.

I offered the headline and article up to Twitter and was generously responded to.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 15.52.53Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 15.53.25Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 15.53.45

Gemma’s suggestion that the idea of framing the conversation about colleagues as resources is hideous, feels easy to agree with. Personnel, people, colleagues, employees, these are all surely preferable to the current, and most common option? I know resources is only a word, and if it’s our starting point then it sends the conversation off in an unhelpful direction.

To Paul’s point – if this move from HR to Employee Experience does represent a shift towards a more supportive environment, rather than the often held belief that Personnel (sorry I’m not using Human Resources any more) are the watchful eye of the employer, there to manage risk/make sure you don’t step out of line, then that too is a shift in a positive direction. I like Paul’s new question – where does the risk function end up? I’m not sure and I’m no expert, and when I’ve worked with and in Personnel departments a lot of risk management is discussed with and referred to lawyers, so maybe cut out the middle person and go straight to legal?

Ade sees this change of language as a good example of Personnel realigning with the business. Hard to argue with that, given so many of us believe and experience that high levels of understanding/integration between departments and functions is a good thing.

I like what all three correspondents have to say, they’ve helped stretch my thinking, and hopefully yours too. When you want to connect to these folks, click the pics above and you can link to their blog sites/twitter.

What do you think? Does it matter that we so frequently label people as resources? Should there be a shift to something less resource, more human? And if so, what? If the term Personnel, the P in CIPD, is good enough for the UK professional body, is it good enough for you too?

Not withstanding my slight disappointment that after hailing the move from HR to Employee Experience, the writer of the article reverts to the current norm in these follow up questions, I offer them to you by way of more food for thought.

  1. Are we still functioning in a Human Resources silo? How can we broaden our vision and begin to partner with other functional groups such as Marketing, Facilities, Real Estate, Communications, and Sustainability to create as memorable an employee experience as we create a customer experience?
  2. How can we use the tools we use for our customer experience such as: ongoing research into needs and perceptions, design thinking, and a marketing mindset to re-invent the Human Resource function?
  3. How do we create and embrace an iterative development model so new Human Resource services are co-created with employees in much the same way new products are co-created by our company’s most passionate consumers?