Creativity Starts with Copying

Creativity Starts with CopyingWhat do these two paintings have in common?

While Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) is world-famous, The First Communion, painted 12 years earlier, would only be recognized by experts or serious connoisseurs.

Well, both are Picasso’s!

What does this tell us?

Firstly, that even the most innovative geniuses need their formative years: one does not revolutionize painting without having learned painting in the first place. And copying is a large part of what it takes to learn. Even a child prodigy such as Picasso first had to learn his art by painting (at the age of 15!) The first communion in a very 19th-century-style mix of classicism and realism.

Only a decade later, Picasso’s work had become truly revolutionary. Yet, some form of copying is at the root of Picasso’s creativity, as Les demoiselles d’Avignon appear to be seriously influenced by Cezanne’s use of space and by African art. There is nothing wrong with such “copying”: one does not innovate in an ivory tower, but has to get out, absorb influences, make connections, and let it happen.

Conversely, what is it, then, that makes people say “I am not creative”? Not getting out enough, not opening up to external influences is certainly a key factor. But there is something more fundamental, which is the reluctance to copy, the fear that the influences will show through what they produce, the impatience to innovate. Seeking to be creative is a sure way not to fail.

To innovate, start by copying, again and again, and trust that creativity, which is part of human nature, will find a way to express itself.

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Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He’s lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he’s travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on and on twitter @innovToday.

Yann Cramer




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No Comments

  1. Daniel Edlen on June 22, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Excellently said and illustrated! Probably all accomplished artists copied early on or at any point they are learning something new. Copying is a tried and true way to learn. Look at the kids drawing books that have kids copy shapes to construct animals and such. It is a terrific way to learn how to see without your own eye’s prejudice. Really seeing is very difficult and copying certainly helped me hone that skill.


  2. Nick Mal on June 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Visit this link to an article inspired by this article. I agree with the writer adding another part about writers and especially fantasy writing.

  3. Yvon on June 24, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Really good point.
    Offcourse, there’s no shame in copying. I always believed it. And by the way, I wrote about it here.
    Copy really is a reliable solution to most of the pain people who want to be creative/innovative may encounter. As you said, start by copying and creativity will take care of itself.

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