“Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal” – How can this concept be supported & explained by a designer?

“Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal”

This is the most famous version of the concept described by so many great artists, yet, as a designer/artist, I’m not sure how I would explain it.

The general concept can be traced back to many great artists throughout recent history:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” – poet T. S. Eliot

“Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.” – Lionel

“Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.” – Igor Stravinsky

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso (according
to Steve Jobs)

It seems to me that the word “steal” implies plagiarism, which certainly could not make for a great artist nor designer?

How is this saying explained and supported from the standpoint of an artist and/or designer?


Those sayings also remind me of a scripture:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
-Ecclesiastes 1:9

Stay with me…

That being said, I’m currently finishing up a class on the History of Animation which is quite interesting. One of the films we studied was a German film done in 1943 called Der Schneeman (The Snowman).

Still from Der Schneeman

In this film, a snowman desires to see what summer is like, so he hides in the freezer of an unoccupied house until Julio (July). He succeeds and enjoys frolicking in the flowers. The character story and design was uncanny to Frozen’s Olaf, who many of you will know that he sings a song in the movie about “What I would do in Summer!”.

enter image description here

After pointing this out to the instructor, he tells me that many of the current animators at Disney have taken his class.

The key to great art is knowing what to steal.

Source : Link , Question Author : CuriousWebDeveloper , Answer Author : ckpepper02

Leave a Comment