Mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery…or is it?

The one great thing about the internet is that is opens up an unfathomable number of sources of information and ideas. It can be a fabulous way to get the word out about your art, who you are and what you do. The downside to this is the opposing edge of the very same sword unfortunately.

As a self-taught artist, I have frequently searched the net for technical information, on materials and techniques. I love nothing more than watching the creative process of others, usually and especially when they are demonstrating a technique that I haven’t been able to master. I’ll look at photography from around the world, searching for images that inspire, that kick to the gut that resonates enough to push my work in a certain direction, colours that speak to me in shouts or quiet whispers.

That said, while I might play with certain techniques, styles or colours, the intent is always to transform that into something that is uniquely my own. To me, copying something someone else has already done, other than for purely an academic exercise is not creating art per say. I can’t say I am surprised by recent trends, although the extent to which I find things happening is disturbing. When I started looking for local businesses to show my art, I came across a few who had massive pieces of art displayed for a pittance. When I inquired as to how exactly an original piece of art could be available for such a low price, I was informed that it was an import. The “manufacturer’ prints the picture onto a canvas and then the “original artist” adds paint in various places to create an “original” oil painting. Ugh. As an artist and not a manufacturer, there is no way to compete with these bargain basement prices. Unless an artist has the fiscal freedom to put their work out there just for the sake of exposure, the cost of the canvases and oil alone prohibits offering paintings at a comparable price point.

The import business has taken this even further. Web sites advertise how you can import works of art (hand painted copies of the original) for a mere 5 pounds, to be sold for 50 or more pounds profit. Door to door sales people have inundated countries like New Zealand with these copies, selling to unwitting customers, further bolstering this deceptive economy. Search online for “original oil paintings”, and chances are, among sites for legitimate artists, you will find a plethora of these businesses, manufacturing “art” at high volume levels. Yes, since there was art, there were those who copied, forged, however you want to label it. That said, it again becomes an issue for artists to compete with mass produced, manufactured, volumes of works inundating the market. Why should the average person fork out hard earned money for an original piece of work when they can have an “original”, massive sized canvas adorning their walls?

I suppose, especially for newer artists, when you put your work out there, you invariably take the risk of someone either lifting your work for their own purposes or copying it. When I was learning palette knife technique, I watched quite a few instructional videos, or artist produced videos, checking out techniques and styles. One such artist, Leonid Afremov, has a very distinctive style. his colour palettes, subject matter and techniques are by and large uniquely his own, making his works almost instantly recognizable (art critics can dissemble about style etc are your own). Now, in my opinion, it is one thing to learn from someone, incorporating these things you learn into your own style, and quite a different thing to produce works that border on infringement or appropriation. Yet, today I found myself looking at works by “artists” (and not manufactured import businesses) who indeed had not only copied the style, but also the colour palettes and subject matters. Again, perhaps my naivete, but explain to me how this is fair, or art. I realize that in any art form (literary, painting, sculpture etc) we are all producing things that are products of the past in many ways. Our brains work to assimilate images and ideas, and yes, sometimes the things we produce do subconsciously come out to be similar to something else. That said, when I put my signature on something intended to be for sale as an original work of mine, (and not an exercise to practice), then unless I put in the title “In the style of”, it’s definitely a product of my own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and instincts. If it’s not, then I am simply a copyist, a clever technician, and not an artist. So while mimicry and copying can be the sincerest form of flattery, outright copying is basically theft of artistic or intellectual properties. Not so flattering, more frustrating I would say.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s