Thursday, 21 April 2011

Is Your Art Original?


I’m sure we all like to think that our art is entirely original.

The idea of copying someone else’s work or ‘borrowing’ their ideas is something that has probably been instilled in us as not only wrong, but particularly despicable, since our schooldays because it is cheating!

When I first started designing greeting cards for sale, I began in my usual ‘pen and wash’ style – and then I discovered Quentin Blake! Worse still, I read that many had tried to copy Quentin Blake's style but that nobody had ever really succeeded.  And here I was doing something very much like an inferior version of the great man’s style! How awful! I became terribly self-conscious as I struggled to make my little drawings ‘not like Quentin Blake’  - and that’s one of the reasons I switched to other styles.

But really I needn’t have worried so much. Unless one sets out to make careful copies, I think one’s own individual style will inevitably, always show through. As Robert Henri says:

Do not worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to.’

On the other hand, I think it’s equally inevitable that we will be influenced by seeing the work of other artists, usually unconsciously. I know that I pick up ideas and influences ‘by osmosis’ and I think that’s perfectly legitimate. It’s the way that ideas are developed, that trends emerge and move us forward, both individually and collectively. It’s extremely rare that anything we do is likely to be 100% new, even though we may like to think our work is totally original. Down through the ages, we’ve tended to build on what’s gone before and give it our personal ‘twist’; it's perhaps the difference between being ‘unique’ and being ‘original’.

Sometimes we see another artist’s work and think, ‘I’d like to create something like that.’ Is this copying? It could be; but more often it just a prompt to try something new, a ‘giving ourselves’ permission’ to do something bold and different now that we’ve seen that something similar works for another artist.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Picasso describes the real ‘copying’ we need to watch out for:

Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.’

Have you ever suspected that you were beginning to ‘copy’ yourself? Have you ever produced a painting that has been much admired, or a design that has sold well, and decided to do more of the same? I have!

I think the ‘sterility’ that Picasso is referring to is that, once we find a winning formula and stick to it, our progress grinds to a halt. We no longer explore uncharted territory but stick to the safe ground that we know.

Maybe we need to do this kind of ‘production line’ painting sometimes to earn our living but I think we know, in our heart of hearts, that we have within us a  pressing need to grow and develop and that ‘copying ourselves’ is no part of that process!



14 comments:

art2cee2 said...

So true...I could never understand it when people sit in museums and try to reproduce what is before them. As for copying oneself, well, as for me I absolutely detest doing the same thing twice. This is reason that I could never do a craft show, where vendors have variations of the same item and are working like an assembly line creating more. Not for me! I guess that is why I like designing crafts better than selling them. I simply make a prototype and I am done with it and move on to something else. They say there is nothing new under the sun, and that may be true, but when one puts their own spin on things, then in reality, it is new again. :-)

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Crystal - I feel just the same as you about doing the same thing twice - I can't bear it! I get bored - so it's just as well I have a number of different styles so that I can switch about and avoid boredom!

I used to wonder why people, mainly students, sat in galleries, copying the works of art hanging on the walls - until I tried it myself! I only did it once, on the advice of an Art teacher. It's difficult to say exactly how it helped but at the end of it, I felt I'd learnt a lot and that it was a very valuable experience, even though I was decidedly resistant to the idea to begin with.

Mary Anne Cary said...

I feel like I don't really have a style because I see all these different styles and think, "ooooh, I like that, i am going to try that, and then the next day I see another completely different style and think, ooooh I like that..... and so on and so on...." I am getting a little better at trying to be consistent, but I am perplexed how people seem to have their own styles and fall into it and are succcessful. I feel I need art therapy, "So Mrs. Cary, what are you trying to say?"..........

SFCount said...

It's funny. This post is very timely for me because I was just discussing this very thing with my husband and a friend. I do believe that all we artists are inspired, whether consciously or unconsciously, by other artists' work. I find I am constantly looking at catalogs and shops for inspiration for new designs. Of course, I suppose I'm more of a designer or graphic artist than I am a "fine artist", so it may be viewed slightly differently.
I do believe, however, that even if you try to exactly copy another artist's work your own "hand" inevitably comes through.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Mary Anne - I think you definitely do have a style all your own, even if you can't see it yourself. There's a thread running through all your work that is unique, even though I sometimes think there's a touch of Cezanne in there (one of my favourite artists!).

As for therapy - I don't think you should worry about what you're trying to say. You're saying it already and a lot of people are 'hearing' it, even if we can't put the message into words. Maybe that's what art's for - to say what we can't put into words? I think I read a quote to that effect somewhere....

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Sarah - good to see you over here! I don't actually think it makes any difference whether you're a designer of a 'fine artist'as far as this subject is concerned. William Morris said something about trying to evoke a mood through his designs for wallpaper, fabrics etc which is just what many 'fine artists' do whether they are aware of it or not.

I think we do put our stamp on everything, even if we copy something meticulously. If that weren't the case, I expect there would be a lot more forgeries around!!!

Jean said...

Judy, I have nothing to add but must say that I always enjoy reading your blog and the insightful comments. Happy Earth Day!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Jean - Happy Earth Day to you to! I'm glad you find my ramblings interesting and I too am always pleased to read the thoughtful comments.

Country Mouse Studio said...

I try to avoid looking at art similar to mine because I end up with it in my mind.
Was it the band U2 that said, "Every artist is a thief."

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Carole - thank you for your comment. I go through periods of trying to avoid looking at other people's art as, like you, if I like it, it's hard to keep it out of my mind!!!

You're more knowledgeable about U2 than I am, but I'm sure there's some truth to that saying!

Tracie said...

I enjoyed reading this article, and it sets my mind at rest tremendously. Thank you :)

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Tracy - I'm very glad you found this article helpful! I try to explore issues that bother me in the hope that I can pass on some sort of solution, if only a partial one, to others!

Custom Cards said...

Great article...my mind is also put to rest. Thank you! Janet Lee

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Janet - glad it helped :)