Good Poets Borrow, Great Poets Steal…

A reporter for NPR’s Morning Edition used my favorite misquote in her “Stanford Center Advocates for Fair Use on the Web” piece that aired on May 7, 2007. Though the quote is usually attributed to T.S. Eliot, the reporter attributed a slightly altered version of “Good poets borrow, great poets steal” to Picasso, this time it was “good artists copy, great artists steal.”

I heard the quote “good poets borrow, great poets steal” for the first time on December 16, 2006, in a commentary about fair use and copyright Bill Hammack, a chemical engineering professor, made on MarketPlace.

My mind was blown. In my earlier, more literate, youth, poetry and poets occupied a great deal of my time. I could not imagine T.S. Eliot would have said such a thing.

I had my aunt consult Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and other sources in her library, and she did not find anything. I searched the Internet and found that the quote mostly appeared only where Bill Hammack was quoted or in articles he had written. He always attributed it to T.S. Eliot.

When I failed to find any reliable reference to the quote, I decided to go to the source; or, to a source that would lead me in the right direction. I knew there had to be a scholarly society dedicated to T.S. Eliot.

Lo and behold, I found the T.S. Eliot Society. Even better I discovered that one of the officers was a professor of English at my undergraduate alma mater, University of Wisconsin, Madison. I had to know if T.S. Eliot really said “good poets borrow, great poets steal” so I reached out to Professor Cyrena Pondrom.

I honestly did not expect to hear back from Professor Pondrom for two reasons: (1) would you respond to some random girl asking a random question and (2) it was December 16!

While sitting in the movie theater watching Casino Royale, my BlackBerry alerted me that I had received a message. To my amazement, Professor Pondrum responded with the actual quote as it appeared in T.S. Eliot’s critical essay on the playwright Philip Massinger, and his works. Apparently, the playwright Massinger may have relied a bit too heavily from time to time on William Shakespeare, with whom he overlapped in time.

So, here is the paragraph from the essay which contains the language which Bill Hammick has bastardized to make a statement that neither T.S. Eliot nor Picasso ever made:

One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. 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 than that from which it is 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.

Eliot, T.S., “Philip Massinger,” The Sacred Wood, New York: Bartleby.com, 2000.

In his essay on Philip Massinger, T.S. Eliot makes an argument that mature, strong poets use other people’s works in a transformative manner that contributes something new to society and culture. He does not argue that “stealing” someone elses works is appropriate or justified as a means to the end. He seems to argue that poets and authors can use other people’s writings as a base for their works as long as the reuse takes the work to a new place, and introduces it to a new audience.

On Monday, Ms. Sydell used a version of the “good poets borrow, great poets steal” quote that has been attributed to Picasso. I have not gone to the lengths I went to debunk the T.S. Eliot version but my research thus far does not support that Picasso ever uttered the phrase “good artists copy, great artists steal.”

In fact, the publisher of a range of resources for quotations has made all of the books, including Bartletts and Columbia, available online. Only two quotes using the word copy are attributed to Picasso, none with steal or borrow.

Paraphrasing is fine, but attributing a paraphrase as a quote is intellectually and academically dishonest. Both versions of the quote have been adopted and implemented into culture by people justifying broad fair use arguments or their own habits. Significantly, it is unfair that either of the great artists have been affiliated with a quote that does not reflect them, or their work.

This post receives a great deal of traffic from search engines.  I would greatly appreciate hearing feedback from you.  For example, did the information in the post change the way you used the quote?   A comment would be great, or you can email me at nancyprager at yahoo dot com.  Thanks!

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About Nancy Prager

Nancy Prager is an attorney based in Washington, D.C. She represents a wide range of clients on matters from intellectual property to estate planning. Before starting her own practice, she practiced with firms in Memphis and Atlanta, as well as providing business development services to technology companies. She launched her practice to offer strategic legal services to clients at an affordable rate. Additionally, Nancy is a sought after speaker and writer on issues related to the convergence of intellectual property, technology and media. Nancy was asked to write a series of commentaries for News.com on the emerging legal issues related to the transmission of content on the internet. She has spoken to organizations and conferences around the country on issues related to the convergence of technology, content and intellectual property, as well as strategic legal issues for companies, individuals and artists. Journalists often rely on Nancy as a resource for emerging legal issues. Nancy has a strong commitment to social justice. She has founded, or co-founded, a number of organizations and programs that provide tangible services to their constituencies. For example, while a student in law school she developed the Domestic Violence Advocacy Center that provides legal services to victims of domestic violence. Additionally, she has been involved with a number of organizations that provide services to children and their families, including serving on the boards of the Harwood Center and Porter Leath Children’s Services. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Law and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a member of the District of Columbia Bar, the State Bar of Georgia and the State Bar of Tennessee. She has been a member of a variety of legal organizations including the Copyright Society of the USA and the American Bar Association.
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193 Responses to Good Poets Borrow, Great Poets Steal…

  1. RaspK says:

    Being an amateur author myself, I can assure you that one of the greatest issues with face is that which only a cliché can present us with (note: I am not sure you know but “cliché” means a matrix, a casting mold).

    For example, let us take a popular book of the last decade: the Harry Potter book series; full of references to European myths and ancient traditions, along with a slapstick-like attitude when it comes to the naming conventions of the setting, the whole world described therein is ripe with clichés… or is it?

    Examining the main character, we can easily see a number of traits that are quite strikingly not original: ruffled hair, a trait of a smart but probably not awfully bright, always active sort of person – the one you can imagine pacing back and forth when he must wait patiently for others to do the job. Dark hair is also commonly attributed to loneliness and a mysterious persona, and his bright green, emerald even, eyes match the aspect of a person who’d rather laugh than brood for the rest of his life, if he can be given the chance; now add the round glasses and haircut, despite the unruly hair: you have a person that is even lonelier (everyone has seen how some children take to having to wear glasses), and the whole image becomes of a possibly lively boy, whose upbringing, though, is ruining him. Suddenly, that boy is also gifted with magical, even destined powers; do Timothy Hunter and Arthur Pendragon not spring to mind?

    The thing, though, is that the above piece of work did not copy anything straight out of some guide to successful authors or some such book; in the end, it made all those a part of the books’ groundwork, a sure footing and a lance to strike forth. Even if not a masterpiece of all time, by all acounts, it certainly is well written to be considered great. :)

    • Ann Bogle says:

      Nancy, thanks for your research here and for making it available on the internet. I provided the Eliot quotation to the U of Buffalo poetry listserv and a link to your blog post at Fictionaut.

  2. Skooma says:

    Ha ha, just what I needed. Google is king of the internets.

    As for Harry Potter. A lot of it was ripped, sometimes very thinly vieled from the Lord of the Rings. Dementors are Nazgul, Horcruxs are the One Ring, Voldemort is Sauron, Harry is Frodo, the Scar is representative of Frodo’s burden of the One Ring, Dumbledore is Gandalf (Dumbledore the White to be in #7?), Snape may be Saruman, Hermoine and Ron is Samwise Gamgee, Fred and George are Merry and Pippin. And on and on and on.

    This is why I’ve come to refer to HP as “Lord of the Rings for Dummies”, I say so affectionatly as all 6 books are sitting besides in hardcover. :)

    • campmascot says:

      As for Harry Potter. A lot of it was ripped, sometimes very thinly vieled from Star Wars. Harry is Luke, Hermione is Leia and Ron is Han (barely even bothered a name change, and both pair off at the end), Dumbledore is Obi-Wan, Fred and George are C-3PO and R-2, Voldemort and Snape represent a mix of the features of Palpatine and Darth Vader, magic is the Force, wizards are Jedi and their wands are light sabers, magical creatures are alien creatures, fan fiction is fan fiction, Quidditch is pod racing … I could go on.

      This is why I’ve come to refer to HP as “Luke Skywalker for the Literate”, I say so affectionatly as all 6 movies are sitting besides in blu-ray.

  3. ellenbooraem says:

    In my opinion, rather than saying Rowling “ripped” those characters from Tolkien, I’d say they shared architypes common to a lot of heroic literature. Arthur and Merlin have a relationship much like Frodo’s and Gandalf’s (also Aragorn’s and Gandalf’s).

  4. Chris says:

    Thanks for doing the research on the T.S. Eliot quote. I will never misuse it again.

  5. Matt in Raleigh says:

    I saw a version of this quote in a YouTube video detailing plagiarism by Led Zepplin from others including blues masters.

    Intrigued me since the older I get, the truer it seems.

  6. Wes says:

    This is great as I was looking for a bit I’d heard many times as “Amateur musicians copy great musicians steal”

  7. stuthehistoryguy says:

    Fine article–it really elucidated Eliot’s meaning.

  8. George Fifield says:

    Let me add my thanks to clearing the air about this elusive quote. I had heard that T. S. Eliot had said the original phrase but had never been able to find the exact quote. In the same vein is one of my favorite quotes by Salvador Dali, not in doubt, as it comes from his preface to Pierre Cabanne’s Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”

    • ergohmm says:

      Regarding Dali’s comment:

      My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
      Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
      If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
      If hair be wires, then black wires grow on her head.
      I have seen roses damask’d, red, and white,
      But no such roses see I in her cheeks,
      And in some perfumes is there more delight
      Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
      I love to hear her speak, yet well I know,
      That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
      I grant I never saw a goddess go;
      My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
      And yet by heaven I think my love as rare
      As any she belied with false compare.

      Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

  9. nancyprager says:

    Mr. Fifield,

    That quote from Marcel Duchamp might well become my favorite quote of all time! Hysterical. Thanks for sharing.

    Right now my favorite quote comes from George Carlin “If you scratch a cynic, you find a disappointed idealist.”

    Nancy

  10. Pingback: Steal This Story | The Nervous Breakdown

  11. Jessica says:

    Forgive my long response, but you said you were interested in feedback, and this is often on my mind.

    First, you write that Eliot would not consider stealing a justified means to an end, and that he seems to argue that “… poets and authors can use other people’s writings as a base for their works as long as the reuse takes the work to a new place…”
    Is it not understood, though, that people who paraphrase this are referring to “transformative” works? “Taking the work to a new place”? Or at least—since new artists can’t know whether their work will be considered transformative—they are giving people artistic “permission” to use (really use) material in the hopes of achieving something innovative.
    What else would they be saying? “Go ahead and rip stuff off without doing anything interesting with it. Be lazy.” It seems to me a given that out-and-out plagiarism of an entire work adds no value. But there are gray areas when we determine what has value (Melville’s whole chapters of ripped-off maritime literature presumably served a higher purpose in the larger work that was Moby Dick).
    Can’t we take it for granted that all artists involved in this conversation share the same goal of progress in the arts?

    Second: “Significantly, it is unfair that either of the great artists have been affiliated with a quote that does not reflect them, or their work.” I disagree.
    What is “The Wasteland” if not reflective of a spirit of stealing in the best possible sense of the word? The entire poem is a composite. A transformative composite, yes. A new work of art made from the raw materials of other texts. The point is that Eliot’s words and work gave “stealing” this “best possible sense” I’m referring to.
    I would never say that the paraphrase “good poets borrow, great poets steal” (which I’ve heard in creative writing classes since college) is a quote. But looking at Eliot’s original paragraph and considering his body of work, I’d say there is no inconsistency here. When I invoke “good poets borrow, great poets steal,” I am indeed using shorthand for the very paragraph you have provided. (And I appreciate your research–I’m glad I saw this, because I’ve been looking for his exact words and context for my own students. Now I can give them the whole thing.)
    Truthfully, I am justifying both my own habits as a writer and my broad fair use arguments when I appeal to this line. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though. I believe Eliot meant what I mean, and that he is my corner, artistically speaking.

  12. nancyprager says:

    Jessica,

    Great feedback! Thanks. Your analysis seems to reflect Eliot’s intent. Of course writers and artists build on each other. I think the key in your comment is that the uses are transformative, not just a synching of a song to an anime video others created :-)

    It is accurate to call the misquote a paraphrase. Wish others would!

    I really appreciate your response.

    nancy

  13. Pingback: Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal | Tongfamily.com

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  15. john windle says:

    Thanks for the post — one of my fellow antiquarian booksellers (a leading specialist in poetry) used the misquote and I was “sure” he was wrong. My Google search took me straight to you — where I found exactly what I needed — so thanks for that! I had actually always thought it was Picasso — along with his “Je ne cherche pas, je trouve” (I do not seek, I find), one of my favorite phrases.

  16. daniel says:

    This is more than I ever hoped for when entering a google search with the words, “borrow” “steal” and “quote”. Thanks to you and Cyrena Pondrom, for enriching the internet with some actual scholarship. I’ve heard that quote butchered as well, and am thrilled to see TS Elliot’s words set in their accurate context.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thanks. I was looking for the original source of this quote, too. I had heard a version of it attributed to John Lennon, something along the lines of “bad songwriters borrow, good songwriters steal.” The original quote by Eliot is definitely the most eloquent phrasing of it that I have seen. Thanks again.

  18. Frank Mitchell says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. I was just about to misinform anelementary school art class by attributing this to Picasso (while encouraging them to “copy” other works to make their own statements).

  19. Kathy Hussey says:

    Thank you for the info! I had heard the amended quote attributed to various songwriters (usually one or another of the Beatles) and went looking for its origin. I had always agreed, conditionally, with the sentiment, and am pleased to find out that the original text supports exactly the same conditions!

  20. Emily says:

    I agree with Jessica; I have never encountered an instance of this quote that uses it to argue wholesale plagiarism is artistically justified. I have always seen it, instead, in the context of the evolution of adaptation and revision, of artists participating in a dialogue with one another, using and engaging with each others’ work. But maybe I’m just hanging out in the right crowd. :-)

  21. anon says:

    I’ve read Eliot’s The Wasteland and an interesting thing about it is that it quotes significantly from Webster’s plays. By quote I mean he lifts lines and places them in his poem – literally ‘stealing’, so to speak.

  22. cyberpuppet says:

    Thank you for the clarification! I was drawn to find this information after reading another post on another blog which used the “quote” for an extensive argument of some sort of another. In this case the words were attributed to Picasso and interpreted in an almost literal sense, something that went against my admiration of the artist in question and motivated me to find out “the truth” about this matter… Thanks again!

    This is the blog link: http://mysteriousdollfilm.blogspot.com/2009/01/some-picasso-quote-evile.html if you are curious..

  23. moult86 says:

    First I would like to thank you for the research and clarification. I have to say that as an artist I “steal” things all the time. what I am stealing is not the actual work of any other artist. I steal their ideas on composition, colors or layout. then make the work my own. The finished work is completely seen as original by anyone viewing it. I used to think that this was somehow underhanded until I came across this quote. I wanted to do some research and find out where it actually came from. That brought me here. This post is informative and well researched and I thank you.

  24. Adam Heine says:

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve often wondered the exact origins (and wording) of that quote.

    For myself, I always understood “good artists borrow, great artists steal” to mean essentially what T.S. Eliot’s elaborated version says. It never made sense to me as a justification for plagiarism, regardless of who said it.

  25. Jon Davy says:

    Firstly thanks a lot for your research. I have often used the quote, with a touch of black humour, to justify my own lack of creativity. However, now that I have found its source and Elliot’s original arguement I will use it with the hint of guilt. Instead I will atempt to produce as it says something ‘better…unique and utterly different’.

    Thank you.

  26. Jon Davy says:

    Sorry, I meant without the hint of guilt.

  27. Tom Jirak says:

    Thanka for the research. The issue has been on my mind a bit more since the flareup over the Obama poster. Just when does a derivative work become original? Was an artist inspited by his/her model or Rembrandt?

    It seems to me that all human progress occurred because of creative ‘stealing’. We all stand on the sholders of the greats who came before us. If we expected technology to be invented anew by each generation, insteaed of creatively ‘stealing’ from the generation that came before, we would still be improving our seating from rocks to small logs and discovering that cooked meat tasted much better than raw meat. We readily accept creative stealing of technoligy; why are the arts any different? T. S Elliot was observant, wise, and, most of all, honest. I don’t think he needed to point out each instance of creative stealing.

  28. Kelly Carter says:

    Thanks for clarifying the facts around this quote (found in various wordings). Still, I think the essence of the quote is not outrageous or offensive at all: We all build upon the work of people (e.g., artists, thinkers) who precede us (we all “stand on the shoulders of giants”). If we “borrow,” we do it quite poorly, adding little or no additional value. If we “steal,” we “make it our own” by adding something truly original, truly inventive, truly significant. It’s not about theft in the sense of plagiarism. Plagiarism is more like “borrowing” but claiming it is your own. Yes, it’s confusing because the terms “borrowing” and “stealing” are being used in different way than the usual. Isn’t language fun?!

  29. Pingback: Freedom to Steal « The Committee of Public Safety

  30. kr4y says:

    Nice post!

    I know the quote as:

    “Good composers borrow, great composers steal.”
    Igor Stravinsky

    I guess this would have been around the same time as TS Elliot? Maybe it was just a zeitgeist thing in the artist communities of the time.

    Ofcourse all artists borrow and steal to a certain degree, you could just call it influence or culture.

  31. Patrick O'Donnell says:

    Scholarship is its own reward but it can be shared with others. Best wishes.

  32. Anthony says:

    Nancy, thank-you, this post was indeed very helpful. What led me to your site was an article in today’s Globe and Mail. “That Eliot line” [sic.] was [mis-]used in an interview between the reporter and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino:

    “For example, knowing that his films have been both heavily influenced and widely influential, I toss out that old T.S. Eliot hook – “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” – to see if he’ll take a nibble. Not a chance. Tarantino smiles, recognizing the quote, but he ain’t biting: “Oh, I’ve always liked the sound of that Eliot line, but I’ve never put it under the microscope.”

    Thankfully, you have.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/tarantino-a-superstar-cinema-nerd/article1252003/

  33. Chuck Evans says:

    Hi, Nancy. Thank you for clearing up the matter. I was just out looking for the attribution for the paraphrased “quote” and found your site. I was in the middle of a posting on another forum, and I really wanted to just post “Good artists borrow; great artists steal!” and then attribute it to someone, but your research makes it plain I can’t just do that. Instead, my posting was kind of rambling, but I did refer folks back to your site, in case they are as anal retentive as I am. See: http://www.oldschoolguitar.com/board/showthread.php?p=23175&posted=1#post23175.

    Have a great day.

  34. Chuck Evans says:

    By the way, it isn’t surprising that that “quote” can upset a lot of artists. They don’t get the distinction between “stealing” in Eliot’s sense and “stealing” as in theft of property. They are either upset at the thought of any artist finding inspiration in another’s work, or they misuse the “quote” to excuse plagiarism.

    But Eliot knew the distinction. One can find an idea and breathe new life into it: One can, shall we paraphrase, “stir dull roots with spring rain”.

    • Tom says:

      I disagree… in my experience as an artist, that particular quote comes as a great relief because what Eliot’s describing is literally something that all artists do to some degree. It feels good knowing that you aren’t a hack for remixing the culture all around you.

  35. Thank you, this was very informative! I have wondered for many years where this quote steamed from. I do think many people have used this quote at a license to steal for many years… T.S. Eliot’s paragraph sums up the evolution of art beautifully. It is not a stealing of ideas but a cumulative process. I found an other article that uses this concept in a different manner, but still in a very effective way.

    http://andrewmello.blogspot.com/2009/10/pablo-picasso-is-not-asshole.html

  36. swimanog says:

    I saw somewhere somehow (or did I surmise) unfortunately I cannot remember where that T.S. Eliot borrowed heavily – raided it seemed at the time -from contemporary free verse poets of his time for his own style. Quoting Spenser is fine, and taking from contemporary poets is probably also fine, as long as you don’t set out to cover your tracks and with his notes at the end of The Waste Land I think that is what cunning old T.S set out to do and did. But the juncture of influence with plagiarism is a funny thing. I saw a section Shakespeare once that seemed to be the source of Between the idea And the reality Between the motion And the act Falls the Shadow..Really I don’t/can’t blame him for any of that, just for the cunning careerism that went along with is inherent in all of it..While at Faber & Faber (1936 was it?) refusing Joyce on ‘Ulysses’ (ah the competition for the Nobel..and how T.S won on that, but how could he do it? Might as well ask: how could Hitler?)..Later refusing Animal Farm.. Was T.S. really a serial destroyer of other writers (the competition) for his own self-aggrandisement? He sent his wife to the loonies after she came up with the title to The Waste Land..after her father gave T.S. his initial financial security..mmm…Have a look at my novel ‘Uncorrected Proof’ on this, a novel about influence and plagiarism, a subject that dare not speak its name in some quaters..The novel’s now with http://www.spdbooks.org in America

    • jandrews822 says:

      Thank you for your answer to this… I agree with you that unscrupulous writers, as T.S. Eliot was, with that quote lingering through time, have promoted theft and ruin of other poets… not old classics, but his contemporaries… and that is wrong… yes… I agree that as poets we should be the antennae of popular culture… thus synthesize the current trends.. but to utterly steal another poet’s lines to beef up one’s own text, is just as treacherous as an athlete competing on steroids… it’s wrong.. and just because everybody is doing it nowadays, does not eliminate the immorality of it… it’s parasitic and wrong.. it puts poetry on the same playing field as parasitism.. or cannibalism… is that what literature is akin to?… please…. having studied literature, I understand that re-stitching echoes of words from the classics, or from the greats who came before us is to give honour to our tradition, but… to openly and aggressively take from our peers, who are striving to create their own manuscripts.. and to use their work as our own… is psychopathic.. it is theft… driven by a competitive spirit to win competitions… to earn fame for oneself… as T.S. Eliot did… who stole from so many… his name is forever tied to “The Wasteland”… how ironic… a hyena’s playground… which is what he was.. and what he made of his peer’s poetic landscapes

  37. Mike says:

    It’s not a quote I’ve ever used, but I’ve heard others use it. I never really cared about where it was from until someone said it was a quote but they couldn’t remember who said it. (I had previously just thought it was a semi-common expression.) I looked it up, found this page, and now I’ve learned something today. So, thank you.

  38. ju4821 says:

    Just look at the Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown was obviously heavily influenced by previous books, setting the ground for his basic synopsis. I’m not saying the Da Vinci Code is a great book, but it certainly was a good/easy read for someone who didn’t know anything about art or Jesus.

  39. K-sky says:

    Thank you. This was very informative. I have wondered for many years whence came this quote. This quote has licensed many people to steal for many years.

  40. Grant says:

    It most certainly did change my perception, and the full quote is so much richer! A shame that things often get boiled down to sound bytes, because they lose the much more powerful meaning.
    I was planning to use the quote in a news article I’m writing; it may now become a focal point of the article.

  41. Ira Rosofsky says:

    Yes, found it through a search for attribution.

    But the irony of honestly trying to attribute the quote is that its meaning runs counter to that.

    I was looking for the correct attribution because on another blog I attributed this quote, “Lies, damn lies, and statistics,” to Mark Twain. Another commenter said he didn’t originate the quote, although I responded that I never said he said it first, only that he said it.

    Not meaning to hijack this thread, but famous quotes often have histories that not only obscure their originator but also their meaning. My favorite example of this is Newton saying, “If I have seen further, it is because I stood on the shoulders of Giants.” Many believe this was actually a sarcastic dig against his rival Hooke, no giant, he was short.

    And that quote is a reworking of one from the middle ages: “Dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.”

  42. Harry says:

    Thanks for unearthing this quote. I too had thought the bastardization of this quote originated from Picasso. I’m glad you set the record straight and found the original quote in all its beauty.

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  45. Logan says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard innumerable art professors use (and cite) the supposed Picasso variant on the quote, but I’m happy to now be able to both properly quote and cite this, in a paper to a professor who’s misused it before, no less :)

  46. Erica Lynne says:

    Ah, bliss. I found this after google-yi-xia-ing (Engnese, sorry) what I believed to be a quote from Picasso. I am currently working on a piece for a friend’s wedding which was inspired by Egon Schiele’s painting ‘Four Trees’.

    I followed the original article here when I saw Eliot’s name mentioned, having never heard that version of the quote. Thank you for tracking down what he said. You have also inspired me to join the Eliot Society.

    Blessed be.

  47. Jen Bannister says:

    Well, thanks for clearing that up!
    JB

  48. Barry says:

    Nice article. Good detective work too. I just recently created a 2 collage series entitled “Great Artists Steal”. This info will definite be helpful in explaining my work to critics and others who don’t understand the quote itself.

  49. Cris says:

    another thank you comment ;)
    i admire the research you did there!

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  51. Jonathan says:

    Nancy, this TS Elliot piece is very interesting, good story, The quote of great artists steal has actually been used in business books. http://columbiapress.typepad.com/strategic_intuition/2007/12/great-artists-s.html

    Good find, impressed and wish there were more of these insights.

    JC :)

  52. Scott Miller says:

    Thank you for doing this research! I too found the quote out of sync with my impressions of Eliot. That’s a pretty poor paraphrasing though, huh? But then, Eliot put it best when he said, “That is not what I meant at all. / That is not it, at all.”

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  56. Luke Hubbard says:

    You answered your Blackberry in the middle of Casino Royale?

    Seriously, though: great work. I’m glad I took the time to google who actually said that before I quoted T. S. Eliot in a paper. :)

  57. Jim Catty says:

    Having had the pleasure of meeting Picasso seceral times in Paris from 1950 to 1957 when I returned to North America I doubt very much he said anything like the alleged quote. I remember him telling me something like “Go to the Louvre. Great artists inspire; poor ones bore”

  58. Flora says:

    Hey,

    I congratulate you for the way you handled the situation.

    Nevertheless, I’d say this is just one of the consequences of us living in a time and place where the information has more value than the thought.

    I mean, when I first read this quote, I interpreted the “stealing” as a methaphor for creation, which has never a true start, but only continues, like a circle.
    To steal is, then, to develop something already existent.

    But the use people like to do of an information, especially without context, is often the use of their conveniences.

    That’s what causes trouble and misuse.

    Anyway, thanks for posting and, above all, rising the discussion.

  59. Rich M says:

    Thank you, Mrs. Prager

    I was worried before, now I’m downright unsure. Unsure that what I’ve done has actually made something better or utterly unique. I can say, however, that it will see a new audience at least.

    Excellent legwork

  60. Tom Voelk says:

    I came here looking for the origin but now find that it’s murky (like just about everything). I will use the phrase but call it a phrase, not a quote.

  61. Russell W says:

    I’d also heard that quote attributed to Faulkner. You’ve done a very nice bit of research here and the web is smarter for it. I for one, given the opportunity, would rather use the actual original quote rather than the mutation. The mutant is pithy, but the original quote makes a far more important (and subtle) point.

  62. ED says:

    I’ve been under the inpression that this quotation was attributed to Mark Twain or George Bernard Shaw. Any comments?

  63. burbank says:

    I used an allusion to it when I ripped off a Fitzgerald line… the whole of my writing appeared as follows: “Daylight Savings Time has perversely stolen the day’s last glistening hour and has pawned it like cheap, gaudy jewelry to that wryly elderly broker, the night. (with apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, under the advice of T.S. Eliot, or Picasso– both were thieves themselves…)”

    Funny…my name Burbank…

    Who clipped the lion’s wings
    And flea’d his rump and pared his claws? 30
    Thought Burbank, meditating on
    Time’s ruins, and the seven laws.

  64. Gabriel says:

    I always thought this was a Picasso quote (about artists). Thanks for clarifying. Since Picasso never said it, I’d like to go ahead and be the first:

    “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”

    -Gabriel Roberts

  65. JL says:

    Thanks for the clarification and research. I was actually thinking about that quote in a more cynical way, and now I’m inspired. Cheers.

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  67. cg says:

    Shoot, I love that quote. And I can totally see Eliot saying that, but he never said anything so concisely! But I’m very glad to know that there’s a question about it, so I won’t spread it around. And I’ve never heard it attributed to Picasso! Thanks for obsessing!

  68. Jam Lemon says:

    A BIG THANK YOU!

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  70. Melissa says:

    Thank you for this page. I had planned on using the Picasso quote for a presentation to students about plagiarism, and wanted to make sure that he had actually said it. Finding your page has helped me explain how important it is to find the primary source of a quote. The students will be taught what a a secondary source is by viewing the Steve Jobs interview from 1994 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CW0DUg63lqU) where he says Picasso had a saying “Good artists copy, Great artists steal” . I will then tell the students that I was unable to find the Picasso quote anywhere, and that it looks like it’s actually a paraphrasing of T.S. Elliott.

    I will also remind these students that neither Picasso or Jobs graduated from college.

  71. Robert Ortiz says:

    the irony of taking the time to write about misquoting a writer who took the time to write essentially a ‘who cares’ tome regarding the treatment of another’s work is plenty good and enjoyable.

    who cares is not a statement of not caring. its a statement that in a room full 100, some will care to mince insignificant details about. and that some will be most. and some will look to for luminous details and work them in the hope that they can make the bulbs brighter.

    the sentiment of stealing is what Eliot was driving at. but stealing not as it occurs in the mind of a wage employee who pays taxes and takes his kids to school. stealing as it occurs to two kung fu master who are training the kinks out of each other’s form by getting trying to get on up on the other using the same Wushu.

    look at the context of his work. look at the time he was writing. look with whom he was writing. you may have heard of ezra pound. you have may have read his “i gather the limbs of osiris”–certainly you should know that Eliot did. and it was luminous details that were on their mind. it was making it new that was on their mind.

    Eliot lifted the entirety of St. Augustine (time) and John Donne (metaphysics), all his life. He painted their subject for them while they were dead. And he added Eliot flair. There’s nothing wrong with that. and what makes it most right is that he can say at the end of the day—yeah, I stole Promethean fire. Chain me to the rock. I am part of the eternal conversation.

    irksome, a little, that folks can look into the room of a certain worker and see all the work scattered about and have no opportunity not to know exactly what their value were, but then to still get it wrong. and miss the point entirely.

    • Nancy Prager says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response Mr. Ortiz. However, you’ve missed the point of my post. It’s not about misquoting the writer, though in a way it is. No, it’s about the use of the (mis)quote to justify actual misappropriation and theft of creative works under the guise of fair use, whether by downloading or sampling/mash-ups.

      T.S. Eliot’s thesis in the essay from which the (mis)quote derives is exactly what you seem to be saying, no artist creates works in a vacuum. The great artist, however, turns the influences into something entirely new.

      • David Marine says:

        I think it’s strange that you’re conflating sampling with illegal downloading, Nancy. Many of the best electronica, experimental, and pop music artists working today include sampling in their work. Your above quote seems to me to devalue their work. An artist who has devoted his or her life to making music, and who chooses to use samples, should not in my opinion be held to a different standard than Eliot, Rauschenberg, or any other artist. Surely he or she should not be lumped together with a 12-year-old illegally downloading a Justin Bieber album. This conflation strikes me more as a legal than an aesthetic stance.

      • Nancy Prager says:

        David,

        Oh how years pass and time flies. At the time I posted this essay, there were people using the quote to justify stealing content over P2P networks as well as mashups and sampling. Eliot would have probably liked sampling when it resulted in something transformative, something new. Not to put words in his mouth but he probably would have considered sampling for sampling sake a sign of an immature artist. :-)

        Thanks for the comment.

        Nancy

  72. Jeffrey says:

    Wow, what a thorough job you did…thanks for clarifying and documenting…I keep a quotation blog (http://wordecho.blogspot.com) and always wondered if Picasso or T.S. Elliot said these quotes…and now I know.

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  76. Faokryn says:

    I’m commenting in response to the bold text.

    I found this article while trying to find the exact phrasing of the quote, which I had heard as “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” attributed to Picasso. I had always used the quote not to justify taking others work, but for drawing on a variety of sources to inspire new design. I usually discuss it alongside Einstein’s quote “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” I believe that the fact that the word “sources” is plural is key. So, I suppose this post did not change the way I use the quote, but I appreciate the thorough background research. I’m a bit of a quote junky, so I know how hard it is to find a solid source for a quote. Things are misquoted and misinterpreted so often, it can be hard to determine what’s true and original. It’s nice to find something like this that clearly shows the origin of a quote that is fairly common.

    I’ll definitely bookmark this page, and pull it out next time someone tries to use this quote to defend intellectual theft. Thanks again!

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  78. I saw this quote on Jezebel, in a Lady Gaga misuse situation. Thought I’d check for myself what T.S. Eliot really said :)
    Nice post here!

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  80. Thanks for taking the time to write this. I am putting a link to this article in my blog for a piece I’m writing about Lady Gaga. Much appreciated!

  81. narc awodey says:

    the picasso quote is “good artists borrow, geniuses steal.” has nothing to do with the word ‘copy’. also, it’s sufficiently different from the eliot quote it seems to me both could have said something similar, without them being mutually exclusive. i believe i heard the picasso quote from the head of the painting department at cranbrook academy of art when i was a student there in the early 1980s. also if picasso did make the statement it wasn’t in english- varied translations can easily account for the differences… i’ll stick with attributing to picasso. it actually sounds a lot like something he might have heard from his friend apollinaire!

    • narc awodey says:

      sorry about the typo- it’s marc, i’m not a narc.

    • Nancy Prager says:

      Marc,

      I have found no evidence that Picasso ever stated “good artists borrow, geniuses steal.” If you read the comments on this post, you’ll see the quote has been misattributed to many people, including Picasso. I wouldn’t rely on my teacher as proof that Picasso said it. :-)

      Thanks for posting!

      Nancy

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  84. Aaron Deacon says:

    I just want to say, I think it is amazing that this small (but worthwhile) comment section has gone on for 4 years, continues to generate new comments and responses from the poster.

    (I came across it as I searched the phrase in response to another blog post (http://shanelife.com/2011/06/01/inspiration-vs-derivation/) which reminded me of the Eliot quote I knew and moved me to check its accuracy. Thanks!)

  85. Anonymous says:

    thank you, for doing the research. I’ve had one of those moments where i wanted to say something, wondered if it was true, realized i wasn’t sure, and you’ve my life a lot easier.

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  87. Downith says:

    I’ve had cut and pasted the quote 3 x now – always linking back to your site – in various discussions on blogs about “borrowing” from other writers.

    Thanks for the enlightening post.

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  89. ciaodree says:

    Hi Nancy,

    I was infuriated when I came across the quote, and wondered why on earth someone accomplished would have said it, because its exactly the kind of thing that lends a misgiving to the credibility of the person who quoted it. But on reading this, I learnt (actually relearned) how half-understood things are often taken out of context and read in a light other than originally intended. Its ironic to know how notorious this quote is, now that I’ve heard of it.

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  91. frank shaw says:

    First, thanks for this. It’s deliciously ironic that this particular “quote” of Pablo Eliot is in fact a travesty, a poor imitation.

    A note and a comment. As I read it, Eliot is saying that ALL poets use the work of others, given that poets are either immature or mature (there are no other possibilities). So, in the face of the inevitable imitation or theft, you have the good and the bad uses of what is taken.

    As an example of good use, I change medium again. Leonard Bernstein is often accused of stealing the theme from Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto, second movement, and using it in the duet, “There’s a place for us,” in West Side Story. The similarity is striking, but Bernstein, starting out with the same rising minor 7th, goes in an entirely different direction, literally to a new place. I hate to think of the loss to all of us if he had said, no, people will think I stole from Beethoven, and had therefore written a different melody for Tony and Maria to sing.

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  93. Anonymous says:

    Bill,
    Thanks for clearing this up. I first ran across the Eliot quote in John Richardson’s biography of Picasso, vol. 1, p. 421, where he wrongly quotes Eliot “The bad poet,….” in a chapter entirled “Plundering the past.” I am now reading Stevens’s and Swan’s biography of Willem de Kooning where they quoe Eliot “Immature artists….” I found your site looking for an answer as to which was correct. Perhaps the attaching of the quote to Picasson came mistakenly from people encountering Richardson’s use of it in his biography but so associatiing it with Picasson rather than Eliot who Richardson correctly attributes it to but misquotes.

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  96. alcatholic says:

    Who’s Bill? A delicious irony that you address a Bill (presumably Bill Hammick who is cited in this blog post as misquoting TS Elliott) when the author of this blog post on quote misattribution is Nancy Prager, who in an earlier comment response mistakenly attributes to Marcel Duchamp a phrase written by Salvador Dali in the preface to Pierre Cabanne’s _Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp_.

    But no matter, because your comment, coming more than four years after the original post, seems to answer the whole riddle! You see, for me it was less interesting that someone was misquoting TS Elliott than to understand how Picasso got associated with the quote, which by the way I first learned through articles written about Steve Jobs.

    It is rare that such a riddle could be answered so neatly, at least to me, in one four year long comment thread. The only remaining question is whether Steve Jobs started misquoting Picasso after reading the 1991 Richardson biography of Picasso. The first use of that misquote by Jobs that I could find was from 1996′s “Triumph of the Nerds” TV documentary. Given Jobs interest in art and design and Apple’s use of footage of Picasso in Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” ad campaign, I think it is likely that Jobs is misquoting the Richardson book.

    Success!

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  98. Hi, Nancy.

    Thanks for writing this. Steve Jobs is somewhat famous for his re-use of the shorter quote, and my interest in what he meant when he said that led me to see if I could find a source for the quote, which led me here.

    I linked you because I wanted to quote the T.S. Eliot version, because I think it’s an even better fit for the points I wanted to make, and my article sort of went viral yesterday, thanks to a couple prominent outside links. Seemed only fair to stop in and say thanks, because the Eliot bit really tied my piece together.

    • Nancy Prager says:

      Brian,

      Wow. I just logged on to my blog to find an incredible spike in traffic on the day you posted this comment, and I guess linked to my post. I was not aware Steve Jobs had used the quote until I read your post! Thanks for linking, and writing. I am going to peruse your blog now!

      Nancy

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  100. Mark Seibold says:

    I cannot say I have stolen anothers art but I have been influenced heavily by Picasso, Warhol, Dali, Escher, Van Gogh, Gauguin, de Kooning, di Chirico, Hopper, The Book of Proverbs in the Bible, Woody Allen, Jackie Mason, George Carlin, Shakespeare, Henry Miller > http://thinkexist.com/quotes/h​enry_miller/ and the list goes on and on and . . .

  101. tommy ollendorff says:

    just for fun, let’s add the thinking of harold bloom, in map of misreading and in the anxiety of influence, if an earlier comment hasn’t already done so.
    he develops this very idea compellingly & thrillingly.

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  103. Scott says:

    Thanks for running this down. I just used your citation of Elliot in an email. Thanks!

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  110. Thank you a lot for sharing this with all people you actually understand what you are talking approximately! Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my website =). We could have a link change agreement between us

  111. You asked to hear from people who read this post. I quote you, or at least link to you, in my post: http://alikibarnstone.blogspot.com/2012/01/new-years-resolution-1-spiritual.html

  112. John K says:

    Hi

    Nice piece. I have always attributed that quote to T S Eliot. I just read an item that attributed it to Ed Ruscha!
    I was going to respond to the item but thought I’d better double check first… Lo and behold!

    Ta

    John

  113. This is very interesting research. I found your article after being bothered about a conversation in a meeting today about the whole “borrowing, stealing” notion. A gentleman voiced that Steve Jobs said this. I corrected him and said Picasso did. I was further corrected by another who said it was T. S. Eliot. So I guess, it turns out, we were all incorrect!

  114. Mary Moran says:

    I went to Google, plugged in: ‘poetic borrowing’ vs theft and came up with your blog. Thanks. Skimming it brings to mind the poetry group founder who hissed at me:
    ‘I have a Phd from Oxford in Creative Writing and Eliot said …’. I said, ‘Oh! Sorry! I dont have a Phd from Oxford. So I didnt know stealing was ok’.
    As an artist, I find it unworthy to be kind, careful, politically-correct on the subject of stealing art. Reading thru some of your posts tho, I see that you have managed that task well.
    Trained at the School of The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as a painter, we were told to select a painting from the Museum next door, sit in front of it for a week and copy it. Copying it taught us technique, color sense, design, sway, and the heart and soul of the artist. If a teacher caught a student incorporating exactly any part of another’s work into their own, they would have been
    expelled. I am now a writer and poet, too. And the same tough standard applies if we are speaking of authentic artists rather than dillitantes.
    Standards have lapsed since commercialization took over the world and made everything possible; everything repeatable; everything for everyone. Let me start by saying, Art is not democratic. It is for every artist to do, and everyone to try, not for anyone to pretend to do.
    If the thought that everyone is not an artist offends you, then why read on?
    Everyone is also not blond, beautiful, brilliant or possessing three thumbs.
    The nature of art, perhaps, should be defined here before many of you happily trip along your way having persuaded yourselves that real artists really need to copy real artists. We dont.
    We invent, birth and innovate. We ‘copy’ life. The world. Our own unique and unrepeatable interpretations of same. I would wonder just as much if someone tried to copy the way I made love or fed my baby or spoke to the trees. If uniqueness is transferable, then what is the human and what is the soul? I suggest that the ways in which we move these reactions/visions into painting, poetry, literature are our own. While the observer, of course, re-creates the piece and its meanings in her own mind/body/soul, s/he could not, as any would-be artist could not, copy same.
    For those who feel that stealing is ok in the cause of furthering the progress of art, I say, ‘Let go’ and paint. As my teacher at the Museum School used to say when he would come in and find me sitting in front of my canvas talking away, ‘Stop talking! And paint!’ I suggest, for those who can, Stop talking and write, paint, whatever. For those who need justifications otherwise, question more.
    Stealing a whole line from another poet, writer, is stealing. It can not add, inspire, explain or otherwise clarify anything of your own to another/reader, it can only do that for its real author.
    The rest is heresay and fraud.
    Wow. Are these fighting words? I hope so. Art is too important for less. Those who observe/read
    art know art. Those who dont, explain it. Explain it in ways that include them … Somehow.
    Enemies are made by such posts. But, then, show me the artist without them.

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  116. I had just read this quote (In John Naughton’s history of the internet “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg”) when I came on a reference to Steve Jobs misquoting and citing Picasso. (http://cultm.ac/wh1poi) Thought I had better double-check Mr Naughton and was pleased to find your now much visited blog
    Cheers
    Simon Bowler

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  121. anonymous says:

    Thank you for doing the research on this! I came across a version of this quote by Banksy, who of course gives it irony: http://www.banksy.co.uk/indoors/badartists2.html

  122. Excellent Work! The proliferation of “Great Quotes” sites is part of the problem. Typically there is no reference to the ordinal work, and blog editors and writers are often path of least resistance types. You saved me a great amount of time and helped me use the quote in a knowing (as in ‘all-knowing’) way!

    Thanks!

  123. Emily says:

    Hi Nancy,
    This is an excellent showcase of excellent research. It proved to be extremely useful in a research report I’m writing for my 20c British Modernism grad seminar.
    Cheers, and all the best!

    -Emily

  124. TR Jahns says:

    I appreciate your research on the famous TS Eliot quote, which is somewhat more nuanced than the simplified version we hear these days attributed to him. There’s another quote I recall being attributed to Eliot, when asked the meaning of his poem: “If I could have said it any other way, I would have.” This is a statement of great use to visual artists more than literary ones, I think.

    In a similar vein, Harold Pinter was approached by a woman after the performance of one of his plays. She was said to be baffled to the point of emotional distress, asking him “Who are those characters and what do they mean?” To which Pinter replied, “Who are you, and what do you mean?” Or on another occasion, he was said to reply to a similar question as to the meaning of his play with a mysterious rejoinder, “The weasel in the kitchen cabinet”. In short, he came up with a metaphor for the way his plays present banal everyday situations in which something unexpected and frightening is just below the surface.

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  127. Kerridwen says:

    I came across this page via napowrimo.net, and I am really glad I did! My interest in poetry just keeps growing, and things like that open me up to yet more information, so I really enjoy it, thanks! And of course the paragraph is much better than the short quote.

  128. Melissa says:

    I always thought that was what the quote meant anyway, though it’s nice to know what he actually said

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  131. Peter says:

    I always wondered about this quote. Working and writing in the academic community I am greatly surprised to see how bastardized this quote has actually become. Much more so than attributing Ashbery’s quote of Bishop as a poet’s poet’s poet rather than a writer’s writer’s writer–the latter an even more flattering comment. Greatful for your persistence!

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  133. nealdeesit says:

    I was reading an essay about short stories in which I recognized two phrases the author had borrowed from poems . In the comments, the author admitted to stealing yet another phrase.

    I googled “great artists steal” and found this page. Wonderful scholarship In my comment, the whole Eliot quote was a perfect preface to my citing the lines filched from the poems, one of them Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

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  135. rantzmuhamitz says:

    I would never admit to going to a theater to see Casino Royale.

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  138. Donald S. says:

    Thanks for the research to clear up this quote Nancy. I also cringe at the amount of misquoted material in society.

    Though I doubt your intention was to do so, I hope no one confuses the disproving of a minor point in the arguments surrounding fair use and the role of copyright and patent in the electronic age with a refutation of the larger viewpoint of a need for more permissive copyright laws and a narrower concept of what is a patentable idea. There are many strong arguments to be made that laws need to be changed and none are lessened to an extent of any significance by one individual’s misquoting of T.S. Eliot.

  139. msalt says:

    Nice piece, thanks. Did you know that you spelled the name “Hammack” different ways though? Might want to correct that. (Sorry, I’m a copy editor.)

  140. Shawna says:

    Nancy-
    Thank-you for taking the time to research that quote. Here it is 2012 and I ran into a similar situation where I was reading a CBS article regarding Apple vs. Microsoft from Oct. 2011 & T.S. Elliot’s quote was indeed “bastardized” there as well. I much prefer seeing the whole picture and being permitted the freedom to actually glean insight from Elliot’s constructive analysis of the matter. I feel fairly certain that Massinger, like so many of us, may well have appreciated the gift of awareness and perspective he could well have been oblivious to. I have experience on various occasions where it becomes apparent that an admiration for a particular author, poet, playwright, artist,etc. becomes so intertwined with the individual that the works become vastly similar. It is said that “Imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery”, yet Charles Caleb Colton has is often not been credited for saying credited for saying it. Seems oddly unflattering, although a bit cheeky ironic that Google would provide one frequently oddly quoted & misquoted former Pres. George W. Bush as the source of the quote for “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
    Regrettably, in today’s society, artistic appreciation in the form of desiring to study the techniques and truly learn from the masters of whatever field your heart finds passion to pull you to. If it be to home, like a weary traveler in which beckons you like a lighthouse in the bay, or the warm soft bosom you lay your weary head upon as you pour out your soul out to you spouse, your muse, your journal, your blog, or now-a-days some wildly creative app that you can tell all your ideas upon, even explain whatever medium that might be you want to use and who knows…
    The designer of the app, probably put in super duper font, or will send an update you don’t pay attention to, that everything you just became totally addicted to using to make your own ORIGINALLY inspired work. Now belongs to them, LOL, and years down the line, people will quote you Nancy in your blog :-D saying: It was Nancy, she noticed it all. The collapse of proper literary appreciation as it should be and complacency with mediocracy everywhere in our educations systems, because kids want spoon feed entertainment. POPPYCOCK.
    Thank-you so much again!
    It was wonderful enlightening!!
    :-)Shawna

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  143. greg says:

    Interesting posts here. As an artist, a painter that is, I see these discussions about art and poetry and literature as a common thread woven by the creative force in us all, albeit with a lot of help from the transformative power I see inherent in Modernity, particularly of the early twentieth century. A great painter can paint a poem, likewise a great poet can paint a powerful picture, and a great author can tell us the most compelling story, all of the above can even occur simultaneously within our own lifetime! It is beautifully simple and rich with complexity.

  144. It seems like Winston Churchill and Abraham Linclon get more than their share of attributed quotes. Put Yogi Berra in the honorable mention column.

  145. Einstein says:

    The Picasso quote is this:
    \” To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic\”.

    Copying is a necessary part of creativity.

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  149. Altoon says:

    Thanks for doing the research on this. I was thinking about the Picasso supposed quote in relation to some work I’m doing now (I’m a visual artist), and was planning to write a blog post subtitled “I’m a thief”. The Eliot quote is terrific; if I use it I will link to your post.

  150. Jessica says:

    VERY HELPFUL!!! VERY HELPFUL INDEED!!! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  152. I so enjoyed reading this article. The whole history and confusion, in fact the thread itself with its varying riffs and versions- from artists, poets, composers, musicians- is fascinating. We could probably add several more categories to the list. It strikes me as a metalogue. All of this paraphrasing, imitating, and co-opting a rich idea into something that seemed just too pat to enough of us that we ended up here! Thank you.

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  154. Fantastic post! What great research. I found it because I too was researching the Steve Jobs quote (one thing I have learned is to background check every, every, every supposedly well known quote) for my blog post on using social to improve New Years Resolution success.
    http://loafingcactus.com/blog/2012/12/27/new-years-resolutions-go-social/

  155. allan says:

    The other phrasing of this is also a vague quote from an older poet to a younger poet that I remember hearing long ago; “Do not strive to say something new, it has all been said before, strive to say something old in a new way.” What is helpful to us who are trying to forge ahead as writers is that most of our audience has not been paying attention to the original voices so we can get away with “stealing” quite happily. As far as T.S. Eliots ties to all of this are concerned; There is a clear, but largely ignored, reason why the opening lines of The Journey of the Magi are in quotations marks… stealing indeed.

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  157. I see that you are still getting comments and traffic here–thanks for providing this resource. I love this apocryphal quote, but I actually find that Eliot’s original is even better: “The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn.” Exactly the point I’ve been trying to make with this so-called quote for years. I’ve linked to you here:

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  160. Came across this while researching plagiarism. I always prefer to see what the author is doing with the material and this post helped me understand what Eliot may have been driving at. Cheers.

  161. Pingback: Genealogically Misingenuous ~ on Wordsmithery and Plagiary | Try-ing---to-be---mis-under-stood

  162. Fantastic post! What great research. I found it because I too was researching the Steve Jobs quote (one thing I have learned is to background check every, every, every supposedly well known quote) for my blog post on using social to improve New Years Resolution success.

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  166. Even these six years later, I have to thank you for your efforts in finding, and your kindness in sharing the original quote! I’ve put it to a bit of use myself tonight.

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  168. Steve says:

    Ive always disliked that quote, they use it where I work to justify plagiarism. Its great to know the origin of it and how TS Eliot (who i admire greatly) used it in a critical way. Nice work. Thanks : )

  169. Strapp Nasti says:

    I appreciate the lengths you’ve gone through to verify this quote.

  170. Pingback: T. S. Eliot, John Williams’ “E. T.” and “Artistic Plagiarism” | The Roads Scholar

  171. MJ Mallen says:

    Thanks for clarifying Nancy – makes sense.

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