This entry is a continuation of Sunday’s post. Thank you to everyone who commented. At this time it appears that it has struck a chord near and far! Please remember that I am based in Canada and copyright laws vary across the globe. Always check with your own country’s rules and regulations.
There is so much more to this timely subject that I split it up into two Parts. The content of Sunday’s article was not new information, so why is it that we continue to come across violations of these laws? Anyone actively producing art must educate themselves on an ongoing basis. We live in a society where the onus is on us to find out the rules, so to speak. As artists we are inquisitive and curious, we are searching for knowledge. We explore what we learn and often express it in our art. Making sure we are aware of what others are producing, whether it is in the same medium or not is our responsibility. Let’s explore some real life scenarios:
My first encounter with copied work was in a class I taught about ten years ago. I had just finished an original piece destined for exhibition in Germany. I brought it to a design class as a sample. After three days one of the students had proudly produced a mirror image of my work in colors more to her personal liking. She proudly called it an original. No need to argue that this was a copy. I explained this, and as the student was not going to exhibit the work I chalked it up as a learning experience for both of us and the rest of the class.
Next scenario: A local judged quilt show has a multiple winner in various categories. The work is derivative of mine and the judge, who knows me and has taken classes with me, chalked it off to the possibility that the entrant had taken classes with me. The quilt maker had not taken classes with me but had obviously visited my website. With increased vigilance on the part of show organizers this practice is being addressed. Most, if not all quilt show organizers require written consent from teachers and/or designers granting permission for a particular quilt to be shown in public.
About a year ago I came across an exhibition that was a little more difficult to assess. The exhibitor had produced a significant body of work and secured several venues across the province. I went with a friend who immediately was delighted that I had surprised her by bringing her to one of my solo exhibitions… It was not my exhibition, however the work was definitely derivative of my earlier work. What does one do? Not much – except that those that have visited the show and realized that it was not my work let me know right away. The exhibitor was a former student. My resolution: Continue to educate future workshop participants on how important it is to carry the knowledge I share in class into their own studios: “Sample, sample, sample and play to move into a style that is uniquely yours’. And when you think you have found your own voice ask another artist and listen, really listen…”
What happens when a person creates a work that immediately “screams” of another artists’ work? It depends: Is the maker going to exhibit the work openly? The answer is often “no” but not always …
What is the definition of exhibition? Is it showing your work at a juried and/or judged show. Is it in a solo or group gallery show? Or will it be published on your blog/website or a chat group you belong to? All of these are forms of exhibition. Once you upload an image to a photo sharing venue on the internet it will not go away, not to mention that one has a wider audience viewing the work than if it was actually displayed in a gallery. If an artist has developed a definite voice, produced a significant body of work it is easy to proof who appeared on the scene first. The person who has copied another artist’s work should not be surprised if he/she is called on it.
Here is another scenario: Enter an emerging artist who decides that she wants to explore a similar style or even subject matter. She/he produces a piece that looks like the original artist’s work. It soon appears on the internet and since she has linked her name to the original artist’s name search engines will always bring the images up together. Kudos to the new artist for giving credit to her inspirational artist. And that is where it stops – If you create a piece for the sake of learning, and to only hang it in your own home or studio, great. Send the image to your closest friends and brag a little about how proud you are of your accomplishments. Do not post it on the internet, your social networking sites etc. If the piece was created for private enjoyment, keep it private.
In every class I make a point of explaining the concept of copy, derivative and original work. Technique based workshops are that – I share techniques, which are not copyrighted, stitches that are part of history and can be found in many source books and and the public domain. I state this clearly. The message is slowly sinking in. I receive regular inquiries from former students as to whether a new work created in their studio is original. I always know who is listening with understanding.
A word about history and copying the Masters: We are all familiar with the workshops of the Renaissance masters in Europe. Once a master established himself a workshop was opened to accept apprentices. Apprentices’ families paid for the young person to enter into the learning environment, and the apprentice began slowly, often just sweeping the floor, graduating to grinding pigments, mixing the paints and eventually copy the master. This entailed learning the way the master held the brush, applied the paint one stroke at a time, emulating the pressure exerted and how thick or light the paint was applied. It was not uncommon that the apprentice would finish the background in a painting once the master completed the main subject matter. And then there were those times where an apprentice was encouraged or able to set up an easel and canvas next to the master and follow along. Over the centuries paintings by apprentices have on occasion been mistaken for the master’s work. However, with technological advances it is now possible to retrace steps and ascertain originality of such works.
At this time nobody is going to do this when it comes to textile art. It is fine to copy and recreate work of an artist we admire as long as it is done solely for learning purposes. And one more time: The results are not to be exhibited.
I am observing a better understanding among my fellow artists. The topic of original, derivative and copied work is always a hot one – however, since I began to shift my focus in teaching on primarily process rather than product oriented workshops copyright issues are openly discussed in class. We learn by sharing and through discussion, and maybe this blogpost sheds a little more light on the subject for all reader. I encourage you to weigh in with more comments, observations and experiences.
For anyone with a keen interest in the subject feel free to check out this informative link from CARFAC Sask.