When we think of Picasso we imagine Cubist tours de force like Guernica and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, where horses have their heads turned around backward and young women pose with two eyes on one side of their faces. But the young Pablo used to plant himself in the Louvre before pure representational masterpieces by Rembrandt and Leonardo and copy them stroke for stroke.
Aspiring film directors from Columbia and NYU take their iPhones and Galaxies to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and recreate shot-for-shot the stalking sequence from Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill.
Kobe Bryant’s fade-away jumper? He studied film of Michael Jordan till he could plant his Nikes in the identical spots on the floor and elevate with the exact same lift and rotation.
This is work too.
This is mastering your craft.
I used to sit for days at my ancient Smith-Corona copying pages and chapters and entire books from Hemingway and Henry Miller. To this day I can quote entire passages from The Sun Also Rises and Tropic of Capricorn.
It’s not aping or slavish emulation to immerse ourselves in the works of the masters to the point of copying them line-for-line. The masters did it themselves, studying earlier masters.
This how we learn.
This is how we evolve our own style and our own voice.
The young Eric Clapton studied B.B. King’s guitar work lick-for-lick, just as Bob Dylan emulated Woody Guthrie’s singing style and Linda Ronstadt listened note-for-note to Betty Everett and Buddy Holly. How many hip-hop artists have followed beat-for-beat behind Dr. Dre or Grandmaster Flash?