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Plagiarism in Art – An Artist’s Perspective

To help me shape this Pandora’s Box of a topic,  I have spoken at length to other artists and people who work with their own creative content. This scope is large and can span over many varying careers. But the answer we all seemed to agree on was the same. In the nature of all creative content, originality is a fleeting concept. If the idea has already been done unbeknownst to you, then it may about to be done, unbeknownst to them. This is my perspective, with opinions peppered through that I have learnt along on the way to writing this.

I began using this blog as part of a project for my 3rd year of my Art Degree; under the instructions to show that you could create an online space that held information about your work. I noticed that I could increase the footfall towards my page. Then in 2013 I took social media platforms more seriously after finding them to be a great place to share my paintings and garner views and interest in my art. As the following increased on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter amongst others like Pinterest and YouTube that there were many advantages towards having your work set before a big audience, but only one pitfall.

 Immediate feedback and interactions have been priceless and add such a fun element to my work. I get to connect instantaneously with like-minded art fans from around the world and hear their opinions and see their own creations. We can talk about which materials work better for our purposes; we can share tips and great conversation. On a larger scale I can tap into my statistics and inspect traffic and engagements. Immediately I was able to see the correlations between certain paintings and their reaction on social media. I was able to notice patterns, fluctuations and spikes. I learnt what worked and what didn’t. I was able to sample test my own new work like a comedian trying out his new material to an audience.

Another beautiful part of sharing your work online is to see it recreated through someone else’s eyes and capabilities. I am often tagged in images of a painting of/or based on one of my own originals, citing me as the source and showing me their recreation. This is overwhelming to see. I never imagined I would see the day that someone used my work as a reference to learn from and to reach the same end game in recreating my painting.

There’s just one small Con that sits by itself amongst all those incredible Pros.

 Plagiarism.

ˈpleɪdʒərɪz(ə)m/Submit
noun
the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.
“there were accusations of plagiarism”
synonyms: copying, infringement of copyright, piracy, theft, stealing, poaching, appropriation; informalcribbing

In most trades, learning new techniques must come from a form of copying. It can be helpful to make your own attempt at creating the same style to get a grasp on it. Here there lies no ethical issue. In the same way this practice of recreating a piece may come from a place of appreciation for the painting you want to recreate, there is also the benefit of learning along the way. Gaining these skill sets of the person you admire by your own trial and error.

Where is the line?

An opinion I found to be common with artists is that there are two lines. One begins at not citing the original creator and passing off a blatent recreation as their own. The other is monetary gain.

 I have been forwarded to many accounts on Instagram that are full of pure recreations of my work. This I love to see. My soul lights up to see the effort and skills learnt that I had to learn before I could create the piece myself. A common theme I found to be infuriating at first was not announcing that there was ever an original artist and calling the work to be their own. I felt infuriated at seeing a piece where in my own original version, the drip mark happened accidentally and I left it in, only to see the carefully placed line where the drip was recreated in someone else’s. My annoyance at these accounts was short lived. Now I enjoy seeing them, they highlight the points that someone else sees in my paintings and focuses on as an area of importance. I find them helpful and enjoy seeing their progression, as I also have progressed. On a smaller scale there are accounts where people are just ‘close to the bone’ in their recreations. I have found that these ones often anger artists more than others, (especially when financial gain for the copier is involved) as their ethical stance is more protected than an obvious copier. I found myself infuriated at this on a couple of occasions, but again it was very short lived. I understand enjoying someone else art and wanting to be able to create the same marks and effects as they do. A perspective that over protective artists sometimes don’t take, and understandably so. They are not just protecting a finished product, they are defensive over their process, their ideas, their labour and then the finished product. I see both sides.

The reason it doesn’t affect me as much is because I still see the process as mine. A finished piece might be recreated, and possibly to a high and beautiful standard! But when I see these pieces I also see what the re-creator has missed…

As an artist, welcoming your new ideas is a moment where lightning strikes. It is very exciting; late nights ensue and pages of A4 are scrawled over as hastily as possible to ensure all of the imagery in your head will make sense on paper incase the idea slips away. Your idea might be compositional. Maybe you could weave in that colour palette you thought of last week? The subject needs to be definitive but maybe you could tweak the backgrounds to fit the new amazing idea? Maybe incorporate the balance of that old masters painting you love and make it relevant to your idea? This whole process is enormously important and one of the best parts of creating something, bar seeing the finished product. There is a wonderful energy of excitement and an eagerness to set the wheels in motion and make it real. Copying is missing out on the process of finding your own style. Time spent reproducing something done before (often with slight changes to attempt to justify the ethical integrity) is still time spent not doing something that will further your own artistic way.

An artist or anyone who creates their content for a living may feel that a ‘copier’ could impact on their career, but the truth is it doesn’t. In the most extreme circumstances, the person plagiarising is aware of an impending backlash with the integrity issues they may come to face. It stunts their growth as an artist. It is also illegal.

Advice I have been given and have learnt in discussions over this post is that the artist being copied remains intact in their integrity and abilities. Their work can be attempted to be copied but it can’t take away from the artist as a whole, as a recreated finished product doesn’t account for the stepping stones that took you to your own unique content that you produce today. These stepping stones can be viewed in your backlog of work which show your journey over time. My work is a culmination of years of finding my footing, working to figure out how to apply to get the finish I am looking for. This personal process can’t be plagiarised.

Be flattered. Passing an influence is a beautiful thing. You should be proud over frustrated. Remember that your process was never encroached on. Only a finished product. The visual of a finished product is only a small percentage of the whole process.

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4 Comments

  1. Art isn’t all about the finished piece. I find the thoughts and the process make the artist grow creatively. The copies doesn’t grow and remains the same. Hope that makes some (ineloquent) sense😊

    • It does make sense, I completely agree. The finished piece is so much more than an image, there can be years of ideas and experiences that could have built up the painting. And you’re right, they copiers don’t get the same experience of finding their footing and shaping their own style 🙂

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