Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Copying vs Building Upon

When I ordered those Oliver Twist threads to replenish my supplies, I tried a different collection than I've bought before - it had two of the colors I needed and the rest were ones that intrigued, especially the one in the above picture. I had no intention of using it on "Masks", but as I moved to a new section to quilt, I was casting about for something a little different, something that might pick up on the subtle pink occasionally running through the painted fabric. So here I am, adding something totally different and unexpected and hoping it works out.

"Masks" is somewhat unique in a world of creativity where true uniqueness is rare. I would not expect another artist to be able to copy it, although I suppose it is possible. Certainly the technique I used to create the design is well-known and yields similar results no matter who uses it. But it might be difficult to match the colors unless a painter or photographer gave it a go. I'd hope that my perspective and vision would be different enough to make my interpretation somewhat unique. Still, fold a piece of fabric and dip it in dye or paint, and it doesn't take much imagination to find faces in the unfolded results. I would not think I had any right to discourage another artist who saw this piece from trying to get similar results. I'd just hope he or she would interpret it in his or her own distinctive way.

The issues of copying, stealing, finding your own voice, developing style crop up over and over again, usually prompted by a flagrant example of someone copying someone else's work and passing it off as their own for profit or recognition. And then the conversation begins again about where does one draw the line. This happened back in February to a blogger I follow, Paperiaarre who specializes in bookbinding. I was most impressed by her thoughtful response that addresses both commercial and personal use of others' ideas as well as subconscious (or unintentional) copying (you can read her post in full here). I think this passage gets to the core of the issue, emphasis my own:

"I am interested to learn new techniques...My point, however, isn't copying techniques from others, it's copying Ideas from others, something much more sacred to me. I cannot understand how it is okay to take someone's technique, aesthetics, choice of materials and their entire process, and present it as your own in a commercial environment. I do believe in being inspired by others, honestly saying how I got this great idea from reading X's blog so I decided to build on it. I'm a firm believer in giving credit when credit is due."

I've also been collecting quotations from Austin Kleon's tumblr, many of which he later published in a book titled "Steal like an Artist." So, "steel" yourself; I'll be sharing many of those quotations over the next few posts. I hope you'll read Paperiaarre's story, then consider what other artists have said about stealing, copying, finding your own voice and developing style.  

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