Saturday, 3 August 2013

Being Unique : That " Copying " question.

Portrait gradually coming to life on my easel. 
I will be adding the hat and facial features next.

Having taken workshops last week I found myself facing a familar question that many artists get asked from time to time. 

"How do you cope when someone copies you?"

This is a question that requires careful considertaion when offering an answer. Firstly I teach,write books and  film DVDs in order to inspire other artists. If my workshops were not successful in aiding other artists to paint in a loose style there would be no point in teaching. Neither would there be any point in writing books  or filming DVDS if I didn't want readers or viewers to follow the included step by steps, that I work so hard to make interesting and achievable. So to all the new teaching artists who have asked me this question I need to ask you to consider why you are teaching. This is a part of my art  life that I adore and I am thrilled when artists who have come to me win competitions, get into galleries for the first time or start teaching themselves. But I do aim to teach new artists to be unique from the word go.

We must remember that copying is an invaluable way of understanding technique and building confidence. Many amateurs worldwide learn by following professional artists who are further along in their own art journeys.  It is a valid point that inspiration not only comes in following an artists painting style but from their career path as well.  And we mustn't forget that it really is a huge compliment when someone loves your work so much that they wish to paint like you.

But there is a fine line between being inspired and directly copying for financial gain. Copying to learn is a simple form of studying a style and perservering until you can work alone finding your own subjects and compositions.  To anyone who is copying to learn, well done. But to those who are copying and passing off the ideas as your own please think twice. Copying an image from a book, from facebook, a blog or web site and then trying to sell it as your own is not ethical and it is breaking copyright laws. Even sharing a copy of someone elses art online and pretending it is your own work, without the aim of a sale, is wrong.

One question regarding copying posed to me this week was from an emerging artist, whose work is wonderful. They had been directly copied for the first time. I can understand their frustration. I am afraid when sharing online this is going to happen from time to time. However the internet world is a very small place. No sooner has anyone copied a painting and shared online, than it often becomes a focus of conversation that doesn't always throw the copying artist in a good light. Nor is it easily forgotten.

In my case, I have good humouredly watched an established artist copy not only my ideas at times, but they also add to their blog in line with my posts. In fact they started a blog because of this one. Part of me finds it amusing, the other part of me finds it really sad because unless they start being themselves they will always be a shadow of someone else.  More recently there was the email I received when I first started painting Kingfishers.  Another "artist" started painting Kingfishers. A background had been added to one of their paintings trying to make the composition look different to mine but it was obvious where the inspiration had come from.  It could have, of course, been a sheer coincidence but the timing and similairty made their post look questionable. Did I mind? To tell the truth I didn't. If someone is picking up their brush and painting because of me I am thrilled because that is the aim of my books and DVDs. To inspire. But I do feel sad when people cannot openly admit when they have been affected by others art. There is no shame in honesty or admiring art that you think is beautiful.

I haven't contacted either of the artists mentioned. I am so happy in my own life and art career that I don't feel the need to do so. But I do understand how frustrating it is for the new artist when this happens to them for the first time. I have been there and in all honesty I think I handled the situation years ago very badly. A " friend" had directly copied a demonstration of mine and passed it off as their own idea online, putting their painting for sale as cards on a well known site. I was genuinely hurt by their dishonesty at the time more than anything else. And I was very naive.

Maybe that is the key word. Dishonesty. For anyone to pretend they have come up with an idea for a painting then passed off someone elses' creativity as their own is in effect stealing. The real problem is that once anyone has this label  of using anothers' work it is very hard for them to shake off. Trust in a copying artists integrity is non existent.

So please, learn from other artists but don't pretend their work is your own.

And if you teach, be compassionate because not everyone who copies is aware of what they are doing. The excitement of a painting turning out for the very first time can be such a wonderful feeling. I know some very innocent amateurs who in their wildest dreams would never wish to offend anyone by enjoying their art style so much that they wanted to simply be able to achieve a good result. If you have helped, as an art mentor, someone reach their goal be happy because that is such a rewarding feeling.

Lets' all help and guide each other and if someone makes a mistake there are kind ways to help them learn from it. Unfortunately there will always be those who care little about ethics or honesty, but I like to think they are in the minority.

So the question raised deserves many answers. What would you do?

"How do you cope when someone copies you?"



Caroline Alexander said...

Most visual artists do take inspiration from what is around them, including the work of others in the same field, without consciously copying, and would be horrified to think they had intentionally copied work to pass off as their own. However there is a growing number of people who would love to be creative, and have never been encouraged, and who find step by step instructions the only way they can create something. Add to this the modern attitude to learning, that you never tell anyone anything negative no matter how bad the work is, and there are a bunch of clones out there making money out of the artists they admire. They truly believe that it should make the artists they are copying feel flattered.
I was placed in the horrible position of a friend asking me to teach her how to do something (for nothing), so she could charge her student for lessons; she had been taught that to learn something properly she should take a lesson, then promptly teach someone else how to do it to reinforce what she had learned. Its how she managed her teaching. Fortunately the student was hi-jacked by someone else so I didn't have to refuse and offend her. She had no idea that what she had asked was perhaps a little insulting and unethical and would never have passed the student on to me simply because she did not have that skill. That knowledge was a commodity she could buy and sell.
Values today are somewhat confused, and the internet makes it more so. Its very anonymous, so people think they can hide behind their ID and not be found out. In the end they outwit themselves, because sooner or later they are seen to be the frauds they really are, but before that happens they can be a great annoyance, and even interfere in an artists career. In the end, quality tells, and teaching artists are recognised for the precious gift they are passing on; there is a great difference in painting in the style of, or being inspired by the work of, and straight out copying. Most creative people know and understand the difference. Creativity will out, and most artists develop their own style and acknowledge the teachers who have helped them get there. The copyists are simply making the bad fakes of the future, and I have no doubt some future art critic somewhere will make a living out of working out who these people are! ;-)

Jean Haines SWA, SFP said...

Hello Caroline, thank you so much for taking the time to reply and so well too.

I do have a lot of art teachers attending my own workshops. Some are aimed at highlighting inspirational teaching methods but the goal being that they then use their own subjects and style in their classes.

We do hear such incredible stories regarding "copying" situations and when I think I have hesrd it all something new will surprise me.

I agree, many new artists would be horrified if they were mistakenly seen as copying. In many cases there is confusion, misunderstanding and completely innocent explanations. To be very honest I would rather be copied by a new artist than my work not be loved enough for someone to do so! And if I help someone learn or become excited about painting I am over the moon.

Professional artists who copy and who know better on the other hand are a different matter altogether. I witnessed an artist in a major exhibition winning a prize with a blatant copy of work. It had been mentioned and brought to the judges attention. This made me lose complete respect not just for the artist, but for the society they belonged to.

The internet does make "copying" easier but it also makes the shared "copy" more easily recognised and disussed.

The moral of this post is, its' wise to be original!

Thank you Caroline,


Brotesdeternura said...

Jean. In my opinion You have marked a milestone in the art of watercolour. It is impossible not to be influenced by your style but then to copy your work there is a huge distance and is very distant from the ethical. You're a constant font inspiration and also in how to face life with a positive attitude. Today I read something that I loved and it said, "success is not instant, is the sum of preparation, practice, perseverance and patience." To which I would add something vital that is the "TALENT".
That, is something that you have and you have left over ,and that is impossible to copy.
Thank you very much because in spite of everything, you share your beautiful art.
My deepest admiration.

Jean Haines SWA, SFP said...

Thank you so much for such a lovely reply Graciela. You are very kind.

I wrote this blog post mainly for a few artists who have been copied for the first time and are finding the situation very hard to handle. For them to run a blind eye and walk away is difficult and I do understand how they are feeling.

What is really important is that we all enjoy painting.


Anonymous said...

I don't know that I'd walk away from the responsibility of challenging someone else who's blatantly copying my works and selling them as their own. That's not right. They need to be confronted. Too many people don't stand up for right versus wrong anymore. This is why we have corrupt wall street and corrupt government politicians: people don't confront wrong doers.

If you make a living selling your know how and instruction on how you approach painting, or how your technique works, you cannot be upset that others learn your approach. And if they copy a work to learn even further, that's fine and to be expected.

but for people to blatantly copy a work. blog about it, and pass it off and try to sell it as their own, that's just plain wrong, immoral, and illegal if your works are copyrighted.

I met another artist earlier this month who took down their blog because others were copying the art and selling it as their own. So rather than enforce action, the artist withdrew.

I have zero tolerance for imitators and copiers who steel. It's theft, not an honor.

There are despicable people in this world and that will never change. But I wouldn't stand by and just let others go unchallenged if they were copying my works and selling them. I wouldn't think it was an honor.

As a matter of prudence, I don't know that I'd list every work I ever made online. The internet makes it too easy to be taken advantage of.

Maybe I'm hold fashioned, but I'm proud of it. Truth, honesty, integrity, decency, respect. I hold to those values.

Again, if you use certain works for teaching, you can't get upset if they are copied for study. But to have them be repurposed as original and sold, that's just wrong and should be challenged.

If we turn the cheek to wrong doing, the world we live in will continue to degrade.

Jean Haines SWA, SFP said...

Hi Robert, thank you so much for such a great and frank reply. You are absolutely right.

Unfortunately not everyone is honest about their creatons or capable of coming up with original ideas for themselves.

I love that in my workshops artists are encouraged to be unique and as we paint many subjects in them, not one painting is similar at the end of each workshop day. Which is the whole point of my art.To be unique.

The reason I shared this blog post was for a few artists who have been copied for the first time and they didn't know how to handle the situation. The problem is the people who blatantly copy and pass others' art off as their own aren't usually "nice" people who will simply say sorry and remove the copied art. What follows the initial confrontation can be very stressful communication.

Like you, I also know wonderful professionals who will not share work online at all, due to the fact that they have been directly copied which is a terrible shame.

I now rarely share my gallery work or exhibition pieces as I respect the collectors who buy my art. So in a way , yes I too am affected.

But I will not stop aiming to inspire by my approach or ideas because that would be a loss not only to anyone who likes my watercolours but to me too. Preventing me from sharing the joy I feel when painting.

Maybe there should be a network online where copying problems can be mentioned and discussed openly,sharing work that is copied and asking advice openly. But that too would take courage. And it is the copied artist that usually gets the headcahes in more ways than one. The copiers seem to just laugh the situation off!