So what does the above quote by Pablo Picasso imply?
Picasso left an enormous legacy behind. A dynamic artist who revolutionized the creative industry and how we perceive art today. Pablo Picasso was leaps and bounds ahead of his time, but what I find more incredible about Picasso is that he experimented with exotic techniques that no other artist had dared to do during this formidable time. Utilizing unorthodox styles not only meant creating new paradigms and theories out of the blue, but rather radically reforming the preexisting forms of art!
Hence Pablo Picasso once said:
"Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal?"
Can it truly be the obvious suggestion to plagiarize the work of other artists? Can it? Well, to succinctly explain Pablo's quote, how about we look at an example where his words were taken as inspiration and integrated into art.
Throughout this article, I'm gonna compare and contrast the raw, beautiful filmmaking of master director, Quentin Tarantino, the mega-goliath of cinema and without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most iconic filmmaker's of all time.
The director once said it himself,
"I steal from every single movie ever made" in an interview with Empire magazine in 1994.
So, we got a great artist who steals, therefore satisfying Pablo Picasso's prophetic quote, but let's take a deeper dive into Tarantino's works; his debut film "Reservoir Dogs" sparked huge controversy when it came under accusations from critics for plagiarizing a Hong Kong film "City on Fire" the shots and sequences closely resembled the latter along with the famous moments of the Tarantino movie. Another popular film of his "Kill Bill" was essentially stolen from the Japanese movie "Lady Snowblood."
The inspiration from other movies doesn’t stop there; many sequences in Tarantino's movies are borrowed from many other movies. For example, in the film "Kill Bill," there's a scene where the screen splits into two to show the Bride lying on the hospital bed, and on the other hand, the nurse creepily makes her way into her room to poison the Bride by her syringe.
The scene was borrowed from a thriller movie trailer, "Black Sunday," which came out in 1977.
One more scene from the same movie in which Uma Thurman faces off against an assassin and kills her by driving a wooden board with nails stuck into it through her head, thereby killing her as she bleeds through her eyes was taken from an Italian horror movie from 1980 with the title "City of the Living Dead."
However, the original scene was much gorier. Another scene from his widely successful film, "Django Unchained," where Samuel L. Jackson's character Uncle Tom calls out to Django "uppity son of a," but before he's able to finish his sentence, the bomb explodes, thus concluding the end of the movie. This scene was also borrowed from an iconic film, "The good, the bad and The ugly," where ugly Tuco similarly calls Clint Eastwood, "You know what you are! Just a dirty son of a" and similarly, before he's able to finish the sentence, the soundtrack cuts him off, thus concluding the end of the movie.
The above examples are sufficient insofar to put forth the point that Tarantino has greatly espoused Picasso's words. Some of his fans and general cinema buffs have tried to explain the similarities as Tarantino paying homage to his favorite movies and directors, a practice widely popular in cinema. However, Tarantino himself has explicitly denied this. In the aforementioned interview with Empire magazine, Tarantino further said, "Great artists steal, they don't do homages." This is clearly a reference to the above quote of Picasso we talked about.
So, now we are left with the question as to why Tarantino does this?
Before we dive into Tarantino's character, we must examine the aesthetic theory of Theodor W. Adorno, who was a German philosopher and a critical theorist. He put forth the notion that art is informed by various cultural and societal norms and its influences on society; he argued that modern art had freed himself from these various restrictions, thus making it possible for the artist's wildest dreams to be vividly realized.
This brings us to the post-modern condition of art itself. To return to our discussion about movies, Post-modern era is the moment where the truths and certainties related to art were challenged, questioned, and disillusioned with. Similarly, in movies, filmmakers questioned the merits of preexisting notions about the film. What the critique helped us realize is that there's no transcendental truth about art interwoven into the very fabric of objective reality. Nothing is particularly original in art, and neither do the ideas related to art belong to certain individuals; instead, humanity collectively owns them.
All ideas are, then, the products of human consciousness that have their roots engraved in the material world. All forms of art have a material inspiration, which, most of the time, is a preexisting idea.
How does this abstract philosophical jargon precisely fit with Tarantino?
Well, that's an interesting question with an interesting answer. Anyone who's a fan of him knows that Tarantino didn't begin his journey through formal education in film making, instead working as a video store clerk and learning about movies through watching them.
He was known for his enormous knowledge about films; later, this became his method of making movies, by essentially recombining aspects from one movie to another and creating something new. Ideas are not abstract; they are part of the material world.
The movies Tarantino "copied" were also heavily inspired by other films. The Mexican standoff from "City on Fire" also stole it from the sequence of "The Good, the Bad and The Ugly." An unrelated, but one of the most widely celebrated movies, "The Lion King," was heavily inspired by Osamu Tezuka's 1954 Shonen Manga series "Kimba the White Lion."
In this aspect, Tarantino might be better off than other people, he not only creates something new out of the preexisting Arts, but he openly admits to it. Perhaps, a director like Tarantino has reached the final truth about art that there is no final truth.
“I lie, I cheat, I steal."
- Eddie Guerrero