The knight probably didn’t ever look like this. Not really – not clad in gold armour (gold would be a terrible material for protection after all). But around 1465, Michael Pacher, a painter working at a church what is now Austria, decided that it had the right feel for his commissioned altarpiece.
Gustav Klimt, 446 years on, was a young man pushing at what modern art could be as he created a huge wall mural for a new, ground-breaking building in Vienna, the Secession. Here’s part of what he did.
Coincidence in the pose of the legs in particular, the ornamentation and the colour of the outfit, even the mid-brown curly hair? The Pacher work is catalogued in Vienna only in 1913, but Klimt knew his art history.
We can push against something, and still look for more than inspiration in genius of the past. We can create new and shocking by taking what was new and riveting from the past and giving it a new context.
What’s more, most people won’t see it. On a misty November day in Vienna last year, I went first to the Secession to look at Klimt, but it wasn’t until I had a few minutes left towards the end of my visit in a completely different gallery, that I happened to spot the the work by Pacher. If I’d had a few minutes less, had turned right instead of left, had looked at any other picture instead, I wouldn’t have ever thought more about Klimt’s figure.
Steal like an artist, exhorts writer Austin Kleon in his bestselling book. Klimt does exactly that. He takes something and transforms it, joyfully. Creation doesn’t have to be about inventing something from nowhere. It’s about taking the best, the most beautiful, challenging worthwhile or powerful, and then examining it again, from a different angle, with the light from another place, a vision from a different time.
It’s also how you keep your own creative fire burning. How will your fire shine, if it doesn’t have fuel?
I know I don’t do enough of this myself. How would I stretch my writing to deliberately write set of sonnets (or one, let’s be real), in the style of Trollope or to rework Charlotte Bronte? But it makes me think that I should try.
What about you? How are you stealing like an artist today? Be really specific, or general – shout out loud about how you’re using the genius of what’s been done in your new work, and leave a comment below or even a picture of the result.
And if you’re not stealing like an artist, what’s getting in the way? Fear of copying, or not being original? Fear of not doing it well enough? Pride? Share that too, as whatever you’re feeling, you’re certainly not alone.