“There’s no honor among thieves… except for us, of course!”
—Saul Goodman, Breaking Bad
In the latest edition of Nick Cave’s brilliant newsletter, The Red Hand Files, he discusses stealing like an artist:
Theft is the engine of progress, and should be encouraged, even celebrated, provided the stolen idea has been advanced in some way. To advance an idea is to steal something from someone and make it so cool and covetable that someone then steals it from you. In this way, modern music progresses, collecting ideas, and mutating and transforming as it goes.
But a word of caution, if you steal an idea and demean or diminish it, you are committing a dire crime for which you will pay a terrible price — whatever talents you may have will, in time, abandon you. If you steal, you must honour the action, further the idea, or be damned.
Emphasis mine. (My friend said he was going to post that above his desk.)
By the way, this is also what T.S. Eliot told us 100 years ago in The Sacred Wood:
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
We’re all thieves — the trick is to steal with intention, skill, and honor.