The quote "Good artists borrow, great artists steal" is often attributed to Pablo Picasso. There doesn't seem to be solid evidence that he actually said it, but the quote is often misinterpreted anyway.
It's not that stealing is OK, but rather, stealing implies taking something and making it your own. What's more, not every artist is Pablo Picasso.
Throughout pop culture, borrowing and stealing run rampant. Earlier this week, Japanese netizens were quick to point out the similarities between the box art for Wii game Pandora's Tower and art for Final Fantasy games like FFXIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
However, the actual Pandora's Tower game trailer looks unlike a Final Fantasy game. It's far edgier, far more unsettling than the grand, sweeping vistas players are used to from Final Fantasy.
Thus, even though Pandora's Tower is ripping the heck out of FF's visual style, it appears to be incorporating these lifted motifs in a very different way. In the past, however, Square Enix has been aggressive about those who rip off Final Fantasy.
Back in 2007, South Korean popstar Ivy totally ripped off Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children frame-for-frame for her Sonata of Temptation music video. At the time, the director said the video was a "parody" and he wanted to get in touch with Square Enix, but couldn't find their contact info. Parody or not, Square Enix was not amused and sued the video's maker.
This video was less "stealing" and more "borrowing" in the sense that Ivy never made the images hers, because they weren't incorporated or synthesised in an engaging or interesting way. It feels clumsy, and there's no art to it, such as voice actress Aya Hirano's alleged rip-off of the cover art for an album by fellow voice actress Nana Mizuki.
While still in university, I spent my summers working for Quentin Tarantino, who was and still is a master thief. One of the things that always impressed me was how he could takes things and make them his own. When you watch Pulp Fiction, one of the most memorable scenes is when John Travolta and Uma Thurman dance - a scene he lifted (and reworked) from Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders. Or even the infamous glowing briefcase, which was lifted (and reworked) from Kiss Me Deadly. Heck, the entire plot from Reservoir Dogs was famously fingered from Ringo Lam's City on Fire, mashed with the structure from The Killing.
In Tarantino's movies, character names, dialogue and even whole sequences were stolen, not borrowed, from Sam Fuller, Howard Hawks, Jack Hill, Brian DePalma, Sergio Leone or some crazy Hong Kong flick. He never really distinguished between high art and low art, between smut and class. Tarantino synthesised and made those things his own. He wasn't and still isn't borrowing anything, he's stealing.
The thing that I like about Pandora's Tower is that the game has the gall to wrap itself in a very pedestrian, tired Final Fantasy-type wrapping. But if that latest trailer is any indication, peeling away the wrapping reveals something very different underneath. The game might be a total dog, but at least it seems interesting.
Good artists borrow, sure, but great artist steal. And steal well.
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