What does it mean to steal well as an artist?

Does it lack integrity? Or is it inevitable and necessary to progress?

Sarah Healy
Nov 18 · 6 min read
What does it mean to steal like an artist? (Illustration by Sarah Healy)

Pearl clutching is a term I was not familiar with.

I first hear the term from concept artist Eytan Zana who works at Naughty Dog. During his Collective Podcast interview with Ash Thorpe, he explains his experience with individuals with a purist mentality and how this negative feedback creates a toxic loop he finds particularly prevalent among artists in the 3D realm.

So what is pearl-clutching exactly?


What does pearl-clutching mean?

Essentially it is a purist mentality, held by those in the creative sphere that everything has to be created from scratch.

If not then it is essentially cheating and the artist who has committed the felony must be called out on this.

Yet, it is not that simple. It is not a simplistic black and white case.

As an artist, it is a niggling beliefe that can be difficult to detach yourself from.

I know personally I have struggled to let go of this purist belief yet have never exercised it as an external criticism to other artists. It has remained an internal conflict.

Here is the thing though, it can limit or hold you back as an artist.

This belief can hurt us as creatives.

Yes, creating everything from scratch is ideal, yet this theory does not always play out well in the real world when trying to meet a tight deadline or being a valuable asset of a team.

This is where it gets murky.

There are many free resources now available. IN the 3D realm, I don;t always need to model everything in a scene, there a site where I can download models for free to speed up my process.

Is this ok?

I am not copying, stealing or plagiarising others' work. I am utilizing resources that are available to me to get the job done.

This is where it gets complicated.

The time I have both as a human and a creative is finite.

If I utilize what resources I have is this deemed cheating or working smarter? Doesn’t it make sense from a productive standpoint to work smarter, leverage time where possible and create as much as possible without compromising quality?

This is at odds with the purist mentality.


Are accusations of ‘cheating’ really just cries against progress?

I really love the analogy Eytan uses to convey the angry outcries he has faced in online forums.

First, he outlines even using a computer ‘technically cheating’ because it is such a radical departure from traditional artistic methods.

In his podcast interview with Ash Thorpe, he says,

Once you decide to do art on a computer it’s over, there are no rules. Being a purist is f*cking bullsh*t

It is about having a good idea and a good sense of color, shape and design. Who cares if you are using a brush or 3D program or AI?Let’s just make art

The 3D artists are using photo scans of landscapes, the animators are using mocap data from the actors and scannign their faces.

As an accomplished concept artist, he seems to have faced a lot of criticism from purists who have been vocal in their cheating

Oh you didn’t create that from scratch?

His attitude towards this type of criticism is clear.

You can be a purist if you want to, go die on that hill.

I had to laugh at his comedic analogy for these cries against progress, which undoubtedly have existed throughout history.

Go up to a construction worker and be like

Dude?

Powertools?

That’s kind of bullshit. You should do it medieval style. Like hammer and chisel that shit otherwise it’s cheating man

That’s how progress works, we just decide there is one way to do it better and then a few peple are like

Ah……wait

What happened to Hammer and Chisel? This is bullshit. I’m going to be out of a job.


Why does this purist mentality often plague artists?

That’s Cheating

As I mentioned, this is something that I have struggled with.

I believe that is it something that is toxic, whether it manifests internally or whether you feel the need to measure other artists vocally on how they measure up to the purist yardstick.

I never felt the need to judge or criticize other artists, but it did harm my own creative output.

I have always harbored an intense need to create everything from scratch. This need to be 100% authentic.

Why?

Help or resources that act as a vehicle to get to the endpoint faster. They do not take away from the creative vision and there is still a hell of a lot of work to do despite these helpful stepping stones.

Using an asset from a previous project you created in your new project? Cheating or working smart?

I believe that Eytan is not trying to advocate inauthenticity or to not create with integrity but that time is very limited both as humans and creatives.

There is always going to be progress and evolution, and the art field is always going to be littered with purist mines that could go off at any time.

In reality, nothing we create is 100% pure.

As Ash Thorpe says

You are making work out of something

This sentiment is further amplified by Friendly Robot, aka CG artist, designer, and creative François Leroy who lists stealing well as one of his seven rules for creativity.

These rules I have explored more in-depth here

We cannot create from a vacuum of space, it is always influenced by someone or something we saw even if unintentionally.


We have two options

Two options

We can choose to explore, experiment and join those who wish to innovate.

Or we can recreate what has gone before and focus on further refining this process.

There is nothing wrong with either.

Do we really need to criticize ourselves or other artists so harshly? Is this really the best use of our limited ime?

Or could we be creating something cool instead?

As Kyle Cooper says

Everything your hand finds to do, do it with all your might

We are all hopefully trying to do our best — both as human and creatives.

We can learn from one another, rather than trying to tear each other down to get ahead.

So, let go of the pearls you are clutching to. They may not be as valuable as you think.


Sarah Healy is a designer, writer and adventuress, focused on motion design and visual storytelling. She authors content over on Design Digest and Happy Human.

Follow her on Twitter, Dribble, Behance or her website.

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on creativity, design and why it matters.

Sarah Healy

Written by

A multidisciplinary designer, storyteller, and adventuress with a penchant for endurance feats and exploring blank spots on the map. sarahhealy.net/

Design Digest

Design Digest publishes curated stories weekly on creativity, design and why it matters.

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