Creativity starts with copying
While Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) is world-famous, The first communion, painted 12 years earlier, would only be recognised by experts or serious connaisseurs.
Well, both are Picasso’s!
What does this tell us?
Firstly, that even the most innovative geniuses need their formative years: one does not revolutionise painting without having learned painting in the first place. And copying is a large part of what it takes to learn. Even a child prodigy such as Picasso first had to learn his art by painting (at the age of 15!) The first communion in a very 19th-century-style mix of classicism and realism.
Only a decade later, Picasso’s work had become truly revolutionary. Yet, some form of copying is at the root of Picasso’s creativity, as Les demoiselles d’Avignon appear to be seriously influenced by Cezanne’s use of space and by African art. There is nothing wrong with such “copying”: one does not innovate in an ivory tower, but has to get out, absorb influences, make connections, and let it happen.
Conversely, what is it, then, that makes people say “I am not creative”? Not getting out enough, not opening up to external influences is certainly a key factor. But there is something more fundamental, which is the reluctance to copy, the fear that the influences will show through what they produce, the impatience to innovate: Seeking to be creative is a sure way to fail.
To innovate, start by copying, again and again, and trust that creativity, which is part of human nature, will find a way to express itself.