After FOGcon I went right into some overtime at work, and then a friend visited … it’s made for a protracted unwinding, with all the stimulus of the convention distilling into a handful of striking moments that I’m still turning over in my head.
Perhaps the most striking of these was the panel on Appropriation, which is a topic that weighs heavily on me, as I suspect it does on many writers. I am aware of my privilege; I am always trying to write better, to level up and challenge my own assumptions. This, to my mind, is a worthy life work.
At one point in the panel, a consensus arose that all of writing is, in some way, an act of appropriation: we take elements from what we see and hear and read, and recombine them all into our own works. “After all,” one of the panelists said, “good artists borrow and great artists steal, right?”
Oh, how I hate that phrase. Great artists steal.
It carries within itself assumptions about the value of “art” vs. the value of a human being’s life, dignity, privacy; about the value of an individual’s creative work vs. the value of entire cultures; about the presumed divide between “great” art and “good” art; about art and art-making as a hierarchy.
It presumes that outright theft is a valid response in the service of art, moreso than the more passive exchanges of copying or borrowing. It is a statement of power, an assertion of power.
As I get older, I’m trying to be a better person. In my twenties I was quick to lash out at things I didn’t like; I could always be counted on for a swift, snarky putdown. I don’t want to be that person anymore; if I don’t like something, I’m trying to put something else in its place, something a little better. Building is always harder than demolishing.
So here, then, is my new axiom, that I will strive to put into practice:
Good artists borrow; great artists share.