Saturday, September 17, 2016

Study/LaChance/Thoughts on Copying

An addendum to the below commentary:

After receiving a comment from a trusted source, I decided to remove the image of the copy that I did. I'd like my few readers to focus on what I wrote and not the fact t hat I showed a semi-copy of something. My original argument remains below and I truly hope that people will read it.

Original post:
I completed a study yesterday. It is a riff on the work of William LaChance.I found his work several months ago in my travels on Pinterest. His style and designs and color choices all really appeal to me.  I felt like I might be able to learn something by doing a copy. So I did it. Sort of.

This particular work appealed to me because of the perception I have about using compartmentalized spaces versus allover spaces, if that makes sense. How to use the picture plane is always a challenge for me. How much space does any one thing get? Is the design an overall design? Lately I have been gravitating towards more compartmentalized spaces. It feels like an offshoot of my love of the hard edged shapes but I want to be careful that things don't end up looking "quilty."  This piece caused me to think about how I see color usage with regard to hierarchy and proportion. 

There were some sticking points. I struggled with the colors and shapes themselves. Normally I wouldn't want to use that pink color. And those shapes down towards the bottom are new for me. I found that some of the shapes he used just weren't natural for me to make so I made ones that seemed more like me. I also swapped out the circular organic shapes in the upper right. His shapes look more like commas to me which is another shape that I don't make naturally. 

As I completed the piece, I realized that LaChance's work is a direct reflection of his individuality and experience. That's hard to duplicate. It's like trying to copy his signature or to replicate his thumbprint or something. Since I couldn't get in the man's head I had to rely on my interpretation of what I thought he might be doing based on the things that I know, limited though they may be.  That was the learning that took place and from my experience with the process, I drew some conclusions.

First, copying doesn't concern me because of moral reasons. Moral arguments don't carry much weight with me to begin with. (Unless of course you are talking Ten Commandments type of morality.) So, copying under certain circumstances isn't always a problem. Copying can be and is a useful learning tool. I concede that point but with several caveats! 

The biggest drawback for someone like myself with a fragile artistic self esteem is that direct copying takes away one's independence. Being creative has a lot to do with individual decision making and a reliance on an innate sense of  right and wrong. Using someone else's work as a yardstick for measurement in one's own work is in effect saying that the other person's judgment is inherently better. It's almost like seeking permission. One's own judgment can't be trusted. Ultimately, this permission seeking (or looking for guidance) can delay personal artistic development. Individual ideas can't really flourish because of reliance on someone else's ideas. One's own ideas don't develop so speedily. 

Some clarity is needed here. I am in no way indicating that inspiration can't come from someone else's work or that a person's work doesn't build on the work of previous artists. There will always be people who are naturally gifted, who have put in the time, and who simply have more skills and more experience. There are always predecessors. Why not learn from them? To suggest otherwise would be disingenuous and a little ridiculous. I am  suggesting however that direct copying can result in giving up one's own power to create something honestly, to make independent  decisions, and to trust personal judgment. 

These ideas crystallized for me (finally) with the above study. The upshot is that I have been questioning my own abilities for a very long time.  I am probably not done doing so either. I found that through copying I was in effect telling myself that the other person's work is somehow better than mine. My work can never be as good so I better duplicate their work. It's some stinkin' thinkin', to be sure.

This essay started with the idea that copying can damage one's self esteem. At the risk of being dogmatic, and after analyzing my own experiences, this is what I think copying does. It's an insidious practice too. We make "studies", reverse engineer paintings and try to figure out the "secret" to other's success. Sometimes some of us pass that work off as our own. It's harmless right? It's just learning isn't it? It's OK to share and have freedom in our creative culture. Be careful though. Woe to the creative type that doesn't consider the impact over time of copying. Look inward to see what is really happening and proceed at your own risk!

Libby

16 comments:

  1. First off, the design is very interesting, Libby. It's funny, I've been thinking lately of doing a regular exercise of taking something I love on Pinterest and making my own version of it, just to shake things up a bit. This is because I feel that everything I make ends up looking the same, but I guess it just looks like me! (my style, that is).
    I've always been fascinated by how you approach art, going through different styles, etc., and how diligent you are as you perfect that style through doing many, many paintings. I think that duplicating another's work is a great exercise, as long as it's just an exercise, and I don't think it's putting that artist's work above your own. To duplicate a Picasso pencil sketch might give the tiniest inkling into how that genius' mind worked. But I would continue on with my own work, knowing that there could be no comparison.

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  2. Libby,
    My first thought upon seeing this was oh, that's different! I don't pretend to understand abstract art and my feeble attempts at it are meek and timid. So I applaud you at going full throttle with it. Copying. In art school we spent a good deal of time copying work in the museum. I was and remain a poor copy maker. It frankly bores me, for as you have stated it robs you of your own voice. I understood the idea behind the lessons but would have garnered more from learning technique instead. I have come to accept my limitations to some degree. To try for better and not beat myself up over not getting there! One can only really move ahead by being true to ones own ideas. Even those that are derivative of other works. Nothing is completely original, we are influenced by much!

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  3. Judy and Karen,

    I hope you will both go back and read the addendum that I wrote. I removed the image of my "copy."

    It's true that nothing gets created in a vacuum. We are all influenced to one degree or another by the work of others, living or dead. The trick I think, as I suggested, is to stop the looking for permission to make work. To stop looking with the idea that other people are doing it better or more correctly or are somehow right. It's just a bad place to be in my opinion. Your work really does come out looking like your own anyway, limitations and all, and I think it is important to come to terms with that. It will help you to move forward I think.

    Thank you to both of you for the comments. The perspectives of other people do help me. And I hope the joint response is OK for both of you. A little unusual for me I know.

    Libby

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    1. Such a great discussion, Libby! I have read all the comments and your addendum. Very interesting stuff!!

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  4. Yes, copying can make you feel as if you will never measure up. I have found that most of the artists I know have a good deal of self doubt about abilities. That also pushes one forward to keep trying and experimenting. On giving oneself permission, I think for most of us the drive is there no matter what. It is more a need to create something. Overthinking it happens to me often. I try not to compare my work with others. It is indeed a stinking place to put oneself. To accept the limitations without giving up on it all can be a bit of a balancing act don't you think? Influences are important for they can show us so much. taking it in and making it your own is the harder part. While I wish I had the talent to draw like the great masters I don't want to draw the same thing, thats been done, I want to be able to take that image in my head and put it to paper as I see it. Now, thats a struggle! So I practice my craft, make the new piece, crumple up loads of paper and carry on! My mother was an artist, and a perfectionist whose work suffered because of it. Ending up with her doing less and less as it could not be perfect. Perfect doesn't happen. Ever. So I do accept my limits, even embrace them a bit. Its those limits that have given some of the greatest artists to shine in their own voice.

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    1. Karen,

      Self doubt seems to be endemic in art making doesn't it? Probably in most things come to think of it. Pushing forward as you suggested seems to be one of the keys to overcoming that problem.

      Your statement about accepting limitations without giving up is so true. Not giving up, for whatever reason, is pretty hard. I would imagine that your mom, as a perfectionist, probably really struggled with this. I am not a perfectionist but still struggle as you do with how things turn out. Are they good enough and can I keep going with it? And I think you are right too. It's the limits of our abilities that cause us to be individuals. This is just as important as being incredibly skilled, nearly perfect. It all adds to our own "thumbprint" I think.

      Always a good discussion with you, thank you. So glad that you took the time too to write back with more ideas. The back and forth is important!

      Thanks again,
      Libby

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  5. OK, now I understand!
    Fine line between self doubt and healthy humility! Copying is a great way to understand process in greater depth. I think it is excellent for learning technique especially. The question is, does the 'lesson' stick? New artists have many ideas to explore and I think the way we discover who we are as artists begins with finding out what we are not. Happiness/self esteem is complicated and ultimately our own responsibility. Art making would reflect our success in understanding our self worth just like anything else.

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  6. I haven't done any deliberate copying since the mid 90's when I was in college (in mid-life) studying visual art. But I have always had an interest in looking at all kinds of art in galleries, museums, walls in cities, magazines, art books, online...because it is stimulating to thought. Several years ago I began ripping ads and articles out of magazines and pasting them into a scrapbook, tasking myself to explicate on the same page, what is it about this work/image that appeals to me. I have taken a book of photographs I admired and loosely drawn the compositions of the photos to see if the process could teach me the nature of what it was in the composition that I found appealing. When I feel stuck on a particular work I will often thumb through a folder I've kept of ads from magazines where I really responded to the color combinations to see if something reaches out and grabs me. I think I could find inspiration in a lump of coal if the lighting hit it just so... But it all kind of comes down to that question that Nicholas Wilton asked in one of his blog posts. "What inspires you?" And if you feel drawn to another artists work and you want to investigate it by making a semi-copy of it, that seems quite a legitimate experience of learning to me. You were quite explicit about what worked for you and how you changed it to be more personal, and I would say you learned a lot from the entire experience, which is a good result. The sticking point is that you somehow believe that you did this exercise because you don't measure up. Self-doubt is a dangerous road, as every artist knows from far too much experience with it. Take the perception of self-doubt out of the equation and your exercise yielded results that taught you something. And what artist cannot benefit from learning?

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  8. Interesting exchanges. I found I agreed with Carol so I went to her blog and she has got all the answers there for you Libby. see March
    https://carolbethicardart.blogspot.com/2016/03/studio-work-bench-recently-i-have-been.html?showComment=1474258791413#c695502162

    I think you are a much better artist than you give yourself credit for.
    You do it because you feel compelled to create. To me that is what makes a genuine artist. Art is so subjective who can say if it is
    right or wrong
    good or bad?

    We do it for the actual joy in the act of making art and then toss it if it is not to our liking.
    it has to feed our inner self and maybe you should try and be more generous to her.




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  9. Dear Libby great thoughts on copying. I think like you there are things one may learn by doing this but to create great art it seems to me what is needed is to paint from your heart. If we as artists do that we plug into the ultimate Creator. As always I love reading your thoughts. So interesting. Hugs!

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    1. Debbie,

      Thanks for your comments. I do think a little bit of emulating of someone else's work, just for practice, is a good way to learn. You really have to pay attention though because there is more to be found out than just duplicating an image. I learned a lot from the whole experience. And as you suggested, being genuinely creative can come from plugging in to a higher source:)

      Thank you as always for your visit. I appreciate it.
      Libby

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it! I reply back in an email if you are signed in and I can see your address. Otherwise I will post the reply here under your comment. I tend to cut and paste my emails too so that others can experience the back and forth which I think is integral to blogging.
Libby