To borrow or steal

I met a working artist who trained in England at a time when the prevailing painterly style was Abstract. As a consequence, that’s mostly all his generation of artists were comfortable painting.

When opening his gallery, he found customers preferred landscapes. Apparently there is a yawning chasm between what the art schools teach and what the public wants. To survive, he turned to copying the work of other artists, ones who painted landscapes, until his skill and confidence grew, and now he is a successful landscape painter.

This in part reflects a sentiment attributed to Pablo Picasso,

Good artists borrow, great artists steal.

As I’m reading over my little stories here prior to clicking the publish button, I’m partly aware that I’ve copied a style of a professional author I’ve read, and probably admired, recently. It’s probably automatic and possibly subconscious. It certainly must be easier than inventing your own unique “voice”, if this is at all possible to do.

When I read other people’s, I wonder if it too is an unconscious borrowing of whatever it is they like to read.

Romance, thriller, historical, classic, kitchen sink working class realism. Is there a regular prompt out there which involves writing in a particular style?


Thinking about…


I asked a friend last week how he listened to his music collection, hoping for a lift into what’s new in technology. He said he doesn’t listen to much music these days; he prefers sitting in silence.

We imagine my friend putting on a John Cage record, 4′ 33″. It’s a piece composed for any instruments, none of which are played. I wonder which version he has; the electric one or the acoustic stripped bare? Maybe he prefers baroque, not hearing a church organ or something.

But Cage’s work is not about the absence of sound but what’s heard in the absence of instruments playing. Ambient sound, if you like, though not the kind that Brian Eno noodles with.

Silence. What is it exactly? Does it actually exist?

I put the word into the Reader’s search box to get a blogger’s ear on it.

A lot of photos of tranquil landscapes came back. A lot of moody landscapes, trees partly dissolving into mist and fog. Most had been “prompted ” by the very word, Silence. It’s a shame they didn’t have the mic on because I don’t believe a scene, however tranquil, is silent.

Calm is not silence. Silence can be powerfully disturbing. Have you ever spent time in an anechoic chamber? Again, this is not free of sound but free of echo or reverberated sound. It’s eerily quiet, disconcerting. After a while, you begin to notice your own heart beating.

Silence, an abstract, a concept difficult to visualise. It’s the wrong sense for a start.

In the permanent display in Bath’s City gallery hangs, in a discreet corner behind you as you enter, a painting by Howard Hodgkin (1932 – 2017). He called it Silence because, it explains, that’s what he experienced whilst painting it. I suspect it was peace but calling it Peace would have presented a different connotation. I find it a fairly noisy abstract. The brushstrokes look like they were applied with some force, frenetic, a predominance of shouty orange, and what’s with that swipe of green bombing the whole?

Here it is shown above, see what you think.

I don’t do abstract. But if I did, I would come up with something like this on the right. It borrows something from old Hodgkin’s. Grey is the colour, and order its structure, along with simplicity.

I think it’s a compromise, a failed effort. It’s just calm again. I’ve imagined tranquility. The truth is that no one knows what silence is. The brain won’t allow it.

4′ 33″ by John Cage