STEAL FROM THE BEST is, like all the Precepts, pretty inclusive. On the face of it, it means exactly what it says: use the forms and ideas and contents of the greats who have worked out some of the problems for us. Think: sonnet form, desktop icons, a Manhattan cocktail.
But there is also the implication that we as artists must be alert to what comes across our path as a gift from the Universe, not so much stealing as snapping up of unconsidered trifles. (The Winter's Tale, IV.3)
As an example, allow me to share a project that is currently in a state of ABANDONMENT, my projected oratorio, SUN TRUE FIRE.
Way back in 2013, a spam comment on the Lichtenbergian Society website caught my attention, and I shared it with the gang: http://www.lichtenbergian.org/art-4/
As I said at the time, this was clearly a message from God. It's so garbled, so elliptical, that it escaped the surly bonds of computer-generated gibberish and became soaring poetry. What's not to like?
(For those who are wondering, such massive texts are inserted into spam emails to try to fool the algorithms of spam filters, which among other things look for the balance of text vs. links. If you can cram tons of text in there and outweigh the links, the filter may think it's legit.)
My plan was to set it to music for orchestra, chorus, and soloists, a grand work that would puzzle the hell out of listeners even as they luxuriated in what was sure to be sumptuous music. I used each section as a movement, and I began making notes on the character of the music. I grounded the whole thing in RITUAL, moving the audience from the everyday world across that liminal boundary that separates us from the mystic.
Part of the project was literally STEALING FROM THE BEST: I was going to take passages or effects from pieces that I liked and try to replicate those effects in short ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS that might or might not work for my oratorio. In other words, I wanted to learn by mimicking my betters.
But composing is hard, hard work, and my energies were diverted into an opera (also currently in ABANDONMENT) and into this book. Yes, there is too a book.
I really should get back to this project. I have a WASTE BOOK for it and everything, and I had a solid plan for working on it, all the way from ABORTIVE ATTEMPTS to glorious completion. I think I shall reclaim it as a creative goal... for next year.