In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon argues that the best artist studies other artists obsessively and ends up “stealing” their ideas. He’s not talking about plagiarism here, but the quality of being so deeply influenced by the work of others—in particular your artistic “heroes”—that you reflect and build upon their ideas, styles, words, etc., in your own material. To this end, he encourages you to start a collection of whatever captures your imagination, and he shares a delightful passage from Jim Jarmusch to make this point:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.
In that spirit, I recently added something to my collection that I thought would be cool to post here for other writers of fiction: an architectural capriccio by Filippo Juvarra. You can find the source image and other sketches here. (It’s in Italian, I believe. Thank goodness for Google Translate.)
I was blown away when I saw this picture because it depicted something I had been mulling over in my imagination for the fantasy novel I’ve been working on. I thought, “This is what the royal palace in Murshaya looks like.” Soaring white columns, open courts, broad stairways, marble floors, intricate statues—the stuff of classical Greek and Roman architecture, seen from the interior. There is perhaps a bit too much of an enlightenment-era vibe going on for my specific purposes, but that’s fine; most of the detail still evokes the style I was envisioning and has got me thinking of how to adapt it. I’ll definitely be referring to this image when I sit down to write a description.
Are you reading or working on fantasy fiction right now? If so, and you’ve come across a treasure trove of inspiring artwork somewhere on the inter-webs, let me know. I’m going to try sharing tidbits like this on my blog every now and then when I come across them.