To be or not to be, that’s not the question. To steal or not to steal, aye, there’s the rub. Quote the Bard, copy his style, are you a plagiarist or a master in the making? “Mediocre artists borrow” said Picasso, “great artists steal.”
If the adage is right that imitation is the highest form of flattery, it’s because it goes beyond sycophancy, it’s how we learn. And it may be high time for copying to make a comeback, putting individuality in its place.
The road to greatness follows in the footsteps, literally, of the great. Not forgery, emulation. The child mimics, the student mimics, does the adult lose out when he goes it alone? Relearning the art and benefits of imitation and eschewing originality.
Nicholas Delbanco, Director of the MFA Program in Writing at the Univesity of Michigan, and author of the this month’s Harper’s magazine article “In Praise of Imitation: On the Sincerest Form of Flattery.”
Ben Marcus, Assistant Professor of Writing at Columbia University, and author of, most recently, “Notable American Women.”