Creative jealousy is a mutation of inspiration that can stagnate you under the weight of inadequacy and impostor syndrome.
I have both a passion for creating and appreciating other artists’ creations. But I shamefully admit that, along my creative journey, these two passions have been at odds with each other.
Far too often I succumb to feelings of incompetence or even envy when I witnessed the creative genius of others.
My awe would mutate into silly competitive comparisons and jealousy. I essentially find myself admiring their masterpieces while simultaneously scolding myself for not thinking of it first.
And how wretched a thought process, how shallow a perception, to trade potential inspiration for poisonous envy. To dehydrate my own potentially fertile soil of creative and collaborative inspiration, rendering any constructive seed planted there lifeless. How mentally destructive to take a weed whacker to the sprigs that could have germinated something beautiful. To admire a masterpiece while simultaneously envying it voids the potential inspiration awaiting my mind’s own interpretation of that concept. Furthermore, it taints the entire experience of appreciating creativity.
Turning creative jealousy into inspiration—and then imitation—contributes to the cycle of inspiration
Why do we observe and appreciate any form of art?
Artistic observation isn’t just for the surface beauty or observational function of masterful creations. There are spiritual connections, profound awakenings of motivation and visionary sparks of inspiration. Within ourselves, a catalytic revival takes place, illuminating those hibernating pockets of untapped potential and uncharted territories. An internal discovery is often catalyzed by an external one.
And this discovery birthed by external inspiration is as crucial to creation as are spontaneous, self-initiated epiphanies. As we walk the paths of those we admire, we discover our own paths. We find creative detours along the road of imitation.
The sharing of ideas and concepts, techniques and beauty, can rarely be defined as plagiarism. As long as the motives behind the imitation are not to explicitly copy but to subjectively interpret and express.
The noblest response to creative observation is creation. Because then you too can add to the infinite cycle inspiration. You too will creatively affect another with your own masterful input in the same way that you were once affected. Although we may peruse galleries and listen to songs for the surface pleasure, I believe we ultimately embark on creative discovery to keep the wheels of cyclical creativity in motion, for ourselves and then for others.
Thus, we observe art, not just to evoke a passive awe, but also to evoke an active expression.
Creative expression is never exclusive
My silly feelings of creative jealousy were born from a thought process that assumed that since someone else has done it, it’s now exclusively theirs and I would just be stealing their idea. In theory, I felt I’d be violating some figurative creative copyright. I felt as if I’d be forfeiting my own authenticity by forging someone else’s.
But in practice, I found my own voice within a conversation they initiated. I found that “copying” is a trivial and irrational worry in context of inspiration. Copying is unnatural in the employment of stolen techniques and concepts, as we naturally impose our own idiosyncratic characteristics.
I finally realized that art is never as fixed as math where, if you input the same factors into the same equation, you receive the same answer. Regardless of the similarity of technique or concept, creative output always takes the signature form of whoever employs it.
After all, it was one of the greats who asserted that “good artists copy, great artists steal.” It is okay to be a thief in art. Whereas copycats simply replicate, these noble thieves adopt and impose their own signatures onto something that is now their own.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal” – Pablo Picasso
Creative imitation is the essence of artistic movements
And wasn’t every artistic movement or period essentially the result of imitation (read: stealing)? The result of one artist peeking at their peer’s paper and writing down the answers in their own handwriting? The culmination of ensuring their signature was written in the corner and then turning it in as their own?
Just look at the distinctive acclaim Van Gogh managed to achieve without stepping on the toes of Monet’s legacy. They both coexist in history as masters in their own right, both bodies of work untainted by accusations of infringement or fraudulence. Two distinct paths were paved from one idea.
At first, our moral compasses hesitate at the idea of stealing even subtle traces of someone else’s work. But in creation, this is how we adopt an idea or concept as our own. Perhaps this is unethical in academia, but in art, the rules are less strict. The lines are always blurred.
Creativity is not personal
In creation, nothing is personal or hoarded. Every creative expression is inherently subject to observation, interpretation, and consequently, imitation. The last of which, of course, is the sincerest form of flattery.
There is no fraud or plagiarism in creative stealing.
In fact, this is how art, technology, creative work in general, functions and evolves. As evidenced throughout history— from hieroglyphics to the Renaissance to Impressionism to surrealism and everything in between—creative stealing is progressive and necessary. Ideas and techniques yearn to be adopted and then adapted within a new idiosyncratic context.
It is rewarding to be a pioneer, to be the very first, but it is just as rewarding to witness and then interpret that genius within a new physical, mental and spiritual aesthetic.
Use your creative jealousy as an inspirational outline
If you feel the twinges of jealousy of someone’s masterpiece, trade it for its positive counterpart. Identify your jealous awe as motivating inspiration. As guidelines for your next endeavor. And add a few more bricks to what they started building. Add your own two cents to their initial statement; make a conversation out of a monologue. That is what creative expression has always been; an infinite conversation in which we are all welcome to partake in.
Lauren is based in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to writing here on Pursuit of Daydreams, Lauren’s daydreams consist of all forms of design: Graphic, Fashion, Web, Interior, Art. On any given day, she can be found preoccupied with at least one of the above. She is happiest with a bowl of ice cream in hand.
Also published on Medium.