Most artists are brought to their vocation when their own nascent gifts are awakened by the work of a master. That is to say, most artists are converted to art by art itself. Finding one's voice isn't just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses. Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos. Any artist knows these truths, no matter how deeply he or she submerges that knowing.
Jonathan Lethem, "The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism", Harper's Magazine, February 2007.
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.
John Donne, Meditation 17 from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.
(This is the epigram to the Lethem piece.)
Removing the obligation of originality is tremendously freeing.