Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

From whom am I stealing? Who is stealing from ME?

Written by: on March 6, 2023

Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist[1] was a fun read. It was not the most intellectual content we have had this term, but I am thankful for a week that did not require a lot of what I call “thick” reading. A review I found describes the book this way: “It’s just filled with quotes nestled between simple concepts you knew since you were 12. That’s not to say it has nothing to offer. It’s a good reminder to do the things you know you should be doing but aren’t.”[2] However, if I have learned anything from reading Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow, [3] it is to take a “beat” to look for nuggets of deeper meaning to apply to my NPO research. Some of the ideas that resonated with me were (in my own paraphrasing):

  • Be intentional about with whom you partner (p39)
  • Invite others into your thinking (p32)
  • Ignore your enemies (p32)
  • Capitalize on the times when you can be anonymous (p26)

Probably the most common reflection I had as I was reading this week’s material was about the nature of artistry, and my limited training in that area.

Turning Things on Their Head

As a kid, I loved to draw… LOVED it. I also loved horses. So, my dad, also an artist who liked horses, would sit with me and show me how to draw them. We would labor over how to get their ears or eyes just right or how to use dimension and light and use those for the effects I wanted. Over time, I grew to be able to draw a reasonable facsimile of a horse. (No, I will not show you my horse drawings from 1988) Eventually, I moved on from horses to other subjects, but the attraction to drawing remained.

I thought it was pretty cool when, in Junior High, I was actually able to have an entire art class dedicated to practicing what I considered to be pure fun. I still remember in that classroom, many years ago, when my teacher put a print of a masterpiece on the table, turned it upside down, and told us to draw the picture as we saw it. When we look at a picture that is oriented as we expect it to be, we draw what we know… or what we expect to see. When we invert the image, we are forced to draw only what we actually see. In drawing the inverted form, we lose our predisposed assumptions and create a more accurate drawing.[4]

Stealing FROM Artists

Did you know that there has been a long-standing tradition of artists ‘stealing’ (at least, the way Kleon describes stealing) from other artists? In fact, there are multiple disputes over the authentication of masterpieces because the students of the masters were pretty good at copying. [5][6] In college, I was able to study a bit of art, and one of the lessons I learned was about this painting by Velázquez. I am not an art afficionado, but this is kind of an interesting scene because it is of the Spanish royal family where, way in the back in the reflection of a mirror, we see the king and queen posing for a portrait, while clearly, the focus of the actual painting is on the princess. AND, we get to see a self-portrait of the painter, with some, mysterious figure exiting (or entering?) in the back.

Las Meninas by Diego VelázquezWhy have I diverged into a retelling of this baroque family scene? Because Picasso ‘stole’ it. In fact, he painted 58 versions of it.[7] (One might say he rivaled my prolific versions of horse drawings) We could discuss how each artist differently utilized the light from the windows to draw the attention where they wanted it, or the subtle messages about classism and gender issues, or any other myriad of interesting factoids about these two paintings. However, this is not art class, so I will jump to my point: Picasso preserved components of Velázquez’s original while making it unmistakably his own.

Las Meninas by Pablo Picasso

The metaphor seems clear: when looking at the work of others, how does challenging your own assumptions help to better see the message in their work? As Christians, as citizens, as leaders, there are a lot of conceptual pictures we know by heart. Are there some we need to study more deeply? Are there some we need to completely turn on their head to understand the true perspective and message behind the picture?

So, I have two examples of stealing borrowing art, both of which require us to challenge our preconceptions. Both of these examples share components that tie into ideas of the art of leadership and while creating more questions that I am chewing on as I inch forward in my project:

  • Who do I want to copy? And what of their message do I want to be sure I preserve?
  • What ideas, messages, do I want to turn around and upside down as I research so that I can get a new view on it?
  • Who is looking to my ‘artwork’ for inspiration? What do I hope they copy? What do I hope they leave out?


[1]  Kleon, Austin. Steal Like an Artist : 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. New York: Workman Pub. Co., 2012.

[2] Sakshi Udavant (Luna), “An Honest Review Of A Book That Reads Like A Social Media Feed: Steal Like An Artist By Austin…,” Fanfare (blog), July 25, 2022, https://medium.com/fan-fare/an-honest-review-of-a-book-that-reads-like-a-social-media-feed-steal-like-an-artist-by-austin-ff62f57a77be.

[3] Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).

[4] Sebastian Ardila, “What Is Drawing Upside Down? And Why You Should Try It,” Enhance Drawing, accessed March 1, 2023, https://enhancedrawing.com/what-is-drawing-upside-down/.

[5] David D. Kirkpatrick and Elaine Sciolino, “A Clash of Wills Keeps a Leonardo Masterpiece Hidden,” The New York Times, April 11, 2021, sec. Arts, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/11/arts/design/salvator-mundi-louvre-leonardo.html.

[6] “Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael,” accessed March 1, 2023, https://www.thehistoryofart.org/raphael/madonna-of-the-pinks/.

[7] “Pablo Picasso: The Many Iterations of Las Meninas,” NOBLE OCEANS, March 29, 2017, http://www.nobleoceans.com/artists/2017/4/4/pablo-picasso-the-many-iterations-of-las-meninas.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

8 responses to “From whom am I stealing? Who is stealing from ME?”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    Brilliant as always. Before I forget, I do steal from you!

    1) Who do I want to copy? And what of their message do I want to be sure I preserve?

    As I conduct my research, I have discovered that a lot of people are working on the issue of immigration in the United States. Some great work has been already done. Why then does immigration continue to punted around like a political football.

    I hope to capture what enlightened “political policy makers” are proposing to US Senators (prayers needed). This month I begin my research with policy makers in hoping to learn, record and “steal like a villain.”

    2) What ideas, messages, do I want to turn around and upside down as I research so that I can get a new view on it?

    I come back to that book “What’s the problem.” I have reformatted the question problem in order to develop a SMALL tool that will jump start church planning for local international newcomer integration.

    3) Who is looking to my ‘artwork’ for inspiration? What do I hope they copy? What do I hope they leave out?

    I like this question in that I hope to create a telephone app that will empower both the international newcomer (refugee, humanitarian parolee, asylum seeker) in understanding the ladder called US ‘Integration. ” Additionally, I want to expand the audience to volunteers/churches giving them a leg up in plan development for integration. A Mission/vision without a plan is just a ‘wish’

    While this book is “academic light” it has some gemstones that glitter and gain my attention. I find them encouraging as my NPO unfolds.

    Once again, brilliant as always…Shalom…Russ

  2. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

    I appreciated this book and welcomed the “academic light(ness)”. I found it refreshing to be able to actually read it cover to cover and not feel overwhelmed by the content. I also found it a little challenging to make a direct connection to my NPO (remember all roads should lead to my NPO) but your questions helped make the connection for me.
    1. Who is looking to my ‘artwork’ for inspiration?
    I hope that my NPO will become an inspiration to woman seeking to lead in spaces that have been unwelcoming.
    2. What do I hope they copy? I hope that they copy/use/adopt the curriculum.
    3. What do I hope they leave out? I hope that they leave out their biases and embrace a new direction. I hope that those healing from “church hurt” leave behind the pain or at least make room for continued healing.

  3. mm Kim Sanford says:

    It’s too trite to say “A picture is worth a thousand words” so I won’t say it. Instead I’ll say, Wow, I love Picasso and also I’m thoroughly inspired by seeing the two Las Meninas paintings side by side. If I ever figure out who to emulate in this leadership journey, I imagine my version of leadership will look something like Picasso’s Las Meninas. Quirky, a bit child-like and definitely unlike a “typical” leader. But hopefully pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo.

    I’m curious to hear more specifically from you, who are you looking to emulate at this point in your NPO process?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Good question! I am enjoying thinking back to the various ministry leaders I met with last term who are really “fighting the good fight” in challenging their congregations to keep doctrine at the right level of importance. They are really feeling the pressure, and I admire their intentionality.

  4. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I enjoyed your thought provoking questions. It is the second half of the following question that caught my attention.
    “Who do I want to copy? And what of their message do I want to be sure I preserve?” While stealing or copying or building on from other’s work there should be some intention and purpose behind it. It isn’t just about creating something new and unrecognizable. It is also passing on the most valuable things. Things we should never forget and want to pass down. Are there threads you are noticing in your research that stand out to you as important to keep just as they are?

    • Jennifer Vernam says:

      Great question, Jenny-
      The first thing that comes to mind from my research about how to maintain unity in the middle of doctrinal disputes is from Larry Richards’ Teacher Commentary where he says the following: “Our solution to the problem of doctrinal differences must affirm truth. But it must also maintain love, and facilitate personal transformation.”

      It seems obvious, but I believe that these days, we are struggling to put love on an equal footing with truth, and this author gave a nice concise statement addressing the polarization I am trying to research.

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