There’s a great South Park episode called “The Simpsons Already Did It” in which the writers complain (through the voice of a character named Butters) that any plot they come up with has already been done by the Simpsons, at least once.
I run into this frustration every time I create something. Songs, videos, cover art, photos. My inner critic says, “Another song about relationships? Groaaaan.” I’ve got four songbooks full of songs that have died on the page because of this “it’s been done” mentality.
This creativity-killer tells me that I’m ripping off my influences, my contemporaries, or even myself. “That’s just another version of ‘Picture Frame!’” For some reason, I’ve bought into this idea that art has to be original. But... that’s not the way art works. Proof:
a) Even Bob Dylan ripped off someone else.
b) Jim Jarmusch (Director of “Dead Man” and “Broken Flowers.”) said, “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. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”
c) In the 11 years since South Park aired that episode, the writers have far surpassed the Simpsons in their satire, humor, and writing. (My opinion)
d) Aren’t all musicians just ripping off some caveman who howled at the moon to impress a potential mate?