The key to creative kleptomania: Never borrow, always steal

The history of creativity is built on artists, designers and creatives nicking ideas from others and then reworking them for the modern age, says We Are Pi’s Rick Chant


When it comes to creativity, we are always reminded that the lesser talented amongst us borrow whilst the bonafide geniuses out there, with their sticky creative palms, pilfer and pickpocket their way to glory. But what in the world of Warhol does this actually mean, where did the phrase come from, and how can we steal our own way to advertising genius?

Ironically enough, it appears the origins of the phrase lives up to its own mantra. It’s been stolen more than an unattended iPhone charger. First introduced by TS Eliot as “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal”, Oscar Wilde then had second dibs with “talent borrows, genius steals”, and Picasso, the artful dodger, went in for thirds with “a good artist copies, a great artist steals”. Wilde and Picasso both demonstrate the essence of the idea within, by taking something that exists, then twisting and building on it to make it relevant to themselves, their medium, and most importantly, their time.

Beyond the phrase itself, creative kleptomania has been around for generations. In music The Beatles famously stole from rock ‘n’ roll, blues and Indian music. Their genius was in how they blended these influences to create something entirely new and used emerging technology to push the boundaries of what music could be. Thirty years later Dr Dre didn’t just steal, but ramraided the annals of musical history, a genius move that created a whole new musical language which is now the heartbeat of global culture.