Great artists never steal ideas!

Robert Gerlach, creativity teacher


In 1996, Steve Jobs cited Picasso, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Hm, Picasso stealing ideas? I researched the quote, and lo and behold, could not find a single piece of evidence that attributed this remark to the greatest painter of the last century. Somehow, people nowadays seem to think that it’s ok to be creative by pinching other people’s ideas. In 2012, there was even a New York Times bestseller titled: Steal like an Artist. But, may I ask you? Why would you settle for someone else’s epiphany when you know how electrifying it feels to come up with your own?

Here are three good reasons why you would do your inner voice a disservice if you steal ideas:

1. Great artists transform their dark energy

Imagine you’re sitting on a plane from New York to Paris and the steward announces, “Please fasten your seatbelts. The pilot is lovesick! We’ll try to solve the problem as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.” How do you feel? A bit uncomfy? Would you show some understanding? Or would you think, “Are you kiddin’ me? Do your f****** job, you f****** f****!!”

Emotions have no place in daily working life. Like a machine, we have to deliver, be reliable and efficient. But at the same time, in the back of the plane, surfing wave upon wave of emotion is precisely what makes our flight enjoyable – when watching a movie. Intense feelings like heartache, anger, rage, melancholy, grief, and despair keep our eyes glued to the screen. While emotions are not welcome in our daily lives, for the creative process, they are essential.

Great artists never steal ideas because they use their emotions to express themselves. The negative ones especially are a wellspring for inspiration.


For songwriters, dark energy is instrumental. Some of the most compelling pop, rock, and rap songs sprouted from seeds of disappointment, heartache, abuse, resentment, aggression, and all the other excruciating dramas we experience in life. Songwriter George Michael, for instance, transformed his grief about the death of his Brazilian lover into the song Jesus to a Child. He wrote the song after 18 months of paralyzed hiatus in one hour only. Madonna converted her frustrations about her long-distance relationship with her then-husband Guy Ritchie into the melancholy electronic ballad Miles Away. She concluded, “[‘Miles Away’ is] a song most people who work can relate to. If part of your work is traveling, and the person you are with also works and travels, you find yourself separated a lot and it can be very frustrating, […].” Rapper Eminem morphed his sadness about not being there for his beloved daughter Hailie into the song When I’m gone:

Daddy you’re lying, you always say that,
You always say this is the last time.
But you ain’t leaving no more, Daddy you’re mine’
She’s piling boxes in front of the door trying to block it.
‘Daddy please, Daddy don’t leave, Daddy – no stop it!

Dark energy is a driving force for innovators. Dissatisfaction with poor service, a cumbersome product, or a counterintuitive design that innovators feel driven to better. Dissatisfaction is a mainspring for the ongoing ingenuity of the most creative German agency of the last decade, Jung von Matt. The agency’s credo: ‘We remain dissatisfied.’

Happiness is a wonderful feeling, but there is not very much we can learn from it. It’s the dark energy that births a great deal of masterpieces, innovations and success stories.


2. Great artists reveal their inner truth

Stealing ideas is dishonest towards yourself because your inner voice has no chance to come through. The Latin root of the word “personalize” is persōna. The verb “personare” means “to sound through.” If you allow your creative mind to speak up, you allow yourself to sound through your physical mantle – through your mask. But if you steal an idea, you’ll be doing your inner voice a disservice, because your internal truth can’t reveal itself.

If you just copy an idea, phrase, technology or business model and don’t fuse it with your beliefs, desires and intuition, you’ll miss the chance to reveal your truth and construct your own world. You’ll be living the life of someone else. That’s why stealing an idea is tragic.


3. Great artists like to feel goosebumps

Creating is a magical experience, because of the emotional truth you feel. When Madonna was asked how she can tell the lyrics of a song are successful, she replied, “When the hairs on my arms stand up. I just feel it, when something is working.” Great artists resist initial temptations to copy. They have the grit to keep on searching for their own answer until they get to Innovator’s High.

Someone stealing ideas will feel goose bumps only when it’s cold.


If you’d like to know more about how to transform your dark energy into creative power, have a look at my new book Innovator’s High. It comes with over 40 colored infographics and illustrations, 2 paradigm shifts, and 96 tips to help you build your creative muscle. This jam-packed helps you to unlock your creative potential and tap into idea euphoria.

Innovator's High Book


Find out more >> Innovator’s High  //  Innovator’s High is available on: Amazon.de & Amazon.com


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