Friday, 9 August 2013

Artists Don't Own Subjects!

Gorgeous new subject from my farm visit yesterday.

Yesterday I had a great day at a nearby farm and took so many photographs of my favourite subjects for workshops and future art features. I get out as much as possible to keep my own enthusiasm and motivation extremely high for continually  moving my brushes. As the subjects I love to paint are varied I go everywhere to research ideas for compositions and paintings that appeal. There were some stunning cockerels and chickens on the farm yesterday so yes, they are pulling at my artistic side right now. I cannot wait to get started creating them in watercolour. Which brings me to the point of this post.

When I recently shared a blog post on "copying"  some wonderful questions arose that are well worth adding to the discussion.  Maybe I didn't word my post too well as I  mentioned artists ideas are sometimes "stolen", in that we often see almost identical copies of another artists work. It is the  way the subject has been painted, not just the style but the composition or colours used etc that is copied. But as artists we cannot claim to own the subject. Some time back I won an Art Critic Award for a body of work that was a collection of  cockerel paintings. Following this, for a while , every single exhibition of mine included paintings of cockerels. Even now, no matter what I paint, I am still referred to as "The Cockerel Artist"  and I am often told by galleries they are disappointed if at least one isn't in my new collections. Often I receive comments from gallery visitors who love the way I handle them, as a subject,in watercolour. But I can't claim them as my own personal subject as that idea would be ridiculous.

Let me explain further. If anyone says the word "Sunflower" I instantly think of Van Gogh and yet I know many fantastic artists who paint theses beautiful flowers too. His art just immediately  pops into my mind as I adore his work. If anyone says  "Venice" I instantly think of John Singer Sargent, whose watercolours are so inspirational. Roses in watercolour always remind me of my favourite floral artist, Madam Blanch Odin. I like to think that if any of these incredible artists were alive today they would be horrified  if they learned that they were solely responsible for the end of their well known subjects ever being painted again. Far more worthy is the thought that as an artist you had inspired others to follow in your footsteps and love painting your favourite subjects too.  So when artists, as often happens on my workshops, paint cockerels or hare I am thrilled and really happy to advise if asked.

As artists we do not own subjects nor should we ever wish to claim them as ours alone. The world is a huge place and there are many gorgeous subjects  that will appeal repeatedly over the years to established artists and those just starting out painting for the first time.

All we need to do is enjoy painting what we love. 
The line of copying is only crossed when you directly copy another artists work. 
NOT their subjects!

I do hope that clears up some confusion!


By the way, I still believe learning by copying step by steps is a fantastic way to grow as an artist and if I inspire anyone to pick up their brushes and keep painting I am honestly over the moon!


Arti said...

Very helpful post,Jean.I have always wondered if I could be blamed for 'copying' you- as I also like to paint roosters and sometimes I tend to paint loose.I would not deny that I have been influenced by your art but I would hate to be referred to as someone who copies others. I think we can all choose to interpret the same subject in our own styles.

Tai said...

RE: possessing what we paint: Have you heard the story about Georgia O'Keefe? When someone asked her why she painted Flat Top Mountain so often, she responded, "Because god told me that if I get it right, he will give it to me."
This story is on the wall at Abiqu so I assume it is true.

Nancy Standlee said...

Excellent post and I agree.. One of my favorite instructors, Robert Burridge says "Its all been done before but not by you."

Saundra Lane Galloway said...

Well Jean, VERY WELL SAID! I can relate...I paint a lot of trees and some animals and birds...recently I painted a few Ostrich heads, and quickly was known for that...I don't mind if they know I paint other things too! HA! I'd love to paint this chicken if you wouldn't mind...just to prove my point! HA!

Jean Haines SWA, SFP said...

Hi Arti, I love your reply. We do all see and choose our own favourite colour combinations and that is what makes us very different. I am thrilled if I inspire you and thank you so much for leaving a comment. Jean

Jean Haines SWA, SFP said...

HI Tai, we don't own nature and we all see so many similar subjects ,I think nature is the best artist and I loved that story, thank you! Jean

Jean Haines SWA, SFP said...

I love that comment Nancy! Yes it has all been done before but maybe not the way we did it! Jean

Jean Haines SWA, SFP said...

Hi Saundra, it is amazing how quickly we get labelled isn't it and those labels are hard to shake. I am fascinated when the cockerel comments come up in my classes. Yes please paint my chicken and please let me see it, and please direct viewers of your painting to this original image so they can see where it was inspired from. We never know, between us we could inspire many more cockerel paintings which are all unique! Jean