There’s been a lot of chatter on the Through Our Hands Facebook page over the last couple of days. It was spurred by the posting of a quilt that was so similar to a painting, that the artist of the original took legal action.
Copyright and intellectual property rights are understandably always hot topics. Creatives are always passionate about what they make, it must be part of the DNA and that passion can raise its head in different ways: some makers are very passionate about protecting their work; some makers are so busy passionately creating that they don’t realise the idea perhaps isn’t entirely their own.
It’s so easy to be ‘inspired’. There’s so much amazing stuff out there. A quick look on Pinterest and it’s easy to feel that every idea has probably already been taken. Let’s face it, most subject matter and themes are timeless and universal: still life, landscape, the human form, portraits, love, tragedy. They’ve all be done time after time. So how can the artist find something that’s their own?
I love to look at the work of other artists from old masters to present day. I think because my own work has been copied in the past, that I’m extra conscious about not copying something else, to the extent that if I see something even vaguely similar to an idea that I was possibly having, then I’ll ditch it completely and give the whole thing a wide berth.
What’s most important, in my opinion, is that whatever subject matter, media or theme that you choose to work with, that you make it your own. Whether you start on something because you were inspired and enthused by the work of another artist or not, there’s still plenty of scope in the world to find your own way with it.
Easily said, but how can it be done? Well I would always encourage students to be inspired, but then to put that to one side and look at their own position in relation to the subject. Be thoughtful and think deeply about the theme, look for connections, variations, similarities and differences, subtlety and range. Over a few years I found my way with poppies as a motif. I worked hard, drew lots, printed, stitched and explored options. After a while, the poppy seed head became part of my vocabulary as an artist. In different works it takes on different symbolic meaning, the drawing sometimes more abstract, sometimes more realistic. I don’t own poppies, but I know when I use them, I’m using them in a way that’s mine and that has come about through a creative evolution of ideas.
There’s the crux of it. Real ideas are rarely lightbulb moments. They usually happen because of hours of graft and thinking. Copying is quick and lazy and that is why it is so annoying. It’s a shortcut to an end result, and for me, a copied piece of work is always hollow. Without the backstory of the journey to arrive at a piece of work, the result will always have less conviction, less credibility. So go ahead, copy if you like, but beware it’ll have no soul!
To help artists and students find their own way, I’ve been doing a series of video workshops on DMTV on the subject of Finding Inspiration. Basically, it’s about finding ideas and then what to do with what you’ve got. Current episodes are available to subscribers in the DMTV Latest Videos playlist and the new episode will be out in two week’s time.
For more info about DMTV please do check out our new website www.designmatterstv.com where you’ll find free videos and more info about the Latest Videos and Archives.