Thursday, September 5, 2013


I think it starts in grade school. The first thing the teacher tells you is, “No copying!"

That message stays with you for the rest of your life except for the time in seventh grade algebra when you had stayed out all night with the seniors drinking malt beverages and smoking and only managed to get home in time to change clothes and wash the smoke off your face and drag to school for Mr. Flewhearty’s algebra class where he double-crossed you by pulling a pop quiz and since you didn’t read the assignment or do the homework cause the seniors asked you to come out with them you had no choice but to copy off Stan the Brain’s test which you could just see over his left shoulder and he knew it and let you because he wanted to get in good with the seniors so he didn’t rat you out but that was the only time and you’ve never admitted it to anyone cause it would set a bad example for the little dweebs and so that doesn’t really count, right?

No, it doesn’t and you shouldn’t be all that embarrassed about it. Okay, coming to class with half a load on and smelling like you slept in the floor of the Cowboy Corral might be a reason to be embarrassed but not copying in ole Flewhearty’s class so just get over it.

Ya see copying has a long and honored tradition in the art world. You didn’t think Leonardo started out doing Masterpieces didja?

No of course not or every building in Italy would have a Last Supper and we wouldn’t give a rat’s behind about ole Leo. But he didn’t and in spite of the fact that every building in Italy does have a wonderful fresco, there were a bunch of artists hanging around in the Renaissance so they had to do something and not everyone can deal with heights so the ceiling is out and if you put your art on the floor people are always walking on it so doing it on the walls is really a much better choice which is why every building in Italy has a beautiful fresco. And since there were so many artists loafing about they couldn’t all start painting walls willy-nilly so they had to start somewhere and that’s why their bosses who were called masters only we don’t so much like the idea of anyone having a master so we call them bosses made then start by copying the works of other artists.

It was a great way to learn. After all a great artist already knows all of this light and shadow stuff and if you copy his works you can learn while you are being bad and you get to work at being good by doing stuff that already has a track record.

This style of teaching went on for hundreds of years in fact it was the only way artists got to learn until pretty much the nineteenth century.

So there is nothing wrong with copying the greats or even the folks which you admire…

So long as you don’t claim that what you do is your own work. That is cheating and besides anyone with half a brain can look at that sort of thing and know that you didn’t do it on your own and then they smiled derisively and nod and tell all of their friends that you CHEATED!

Copying for practice is a good way to learn. The sad part about most of the creative arts is the only way you learn is by doing it wrong a whole bunch and why not do it wrong with really, really good stuff?

But don’t ever claim that the copy you made of Baron Von Schummerkaschlamer’s Boy with a Lollipop is original art work.

You know about copyrights, right? That’s the law/regulation/code which says what you create belongs to you and you alone from the minuet you make the first mark and no one else can use it.

Sure you can combine another’s work and make it into a new and original work and not be in violation so long as it meets all of the conditions of a derivative work. But you better be damn sure.

What you can do with great works of art is use them as inspirations and guides for your own work.

Say you’ve always like Vinnie the Go’s Sunflowers. Why not try a bit of his look on your own work? Can’t hurt and maybe you’ll learn something while you are doing it.

I did this and I’m thinking Vinnie wouldn’t be all that annoyed with me. It is the same subject but not the same media and not the same composition but faithful to the original and yet different and that makes for both a respectful homage and an interesting image.

Letting the works of other artists serve as a jumping off point for your own work can be a powerful creative tool. See what they did and try to find a different way to see the same thing.

Dashiell Hammett a writer who was certainly an artist managed to write only five novels. But those five works form the core of everything we know to day about private eyes. No one has ever been more cynical and hard boiled than Sam Spade. Nick and Nora taught everyone you could be married and still have a whole bunch of fun. The Red Harvest has made movies work for everyone from Clint Eastwood to Bruce Willis. Copies? No, but homages and good, oh hell yes.

That’s what you are looking for when you use another artist’s work as a starting point, that faithful, respectful, acknowledged debt to someone else’s work. Then you can go play on your own.

Now remember its okay, don’t say you did it first and above all have fun.

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