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.
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!