Sunday, October 17, 2010

Does teaching art generate copying of art?

This is about copying artwork and
  • the emotions copying artwork can arouse 
  • how people can best support those whose artwork is copied; and
  • the role teaching plays in enabling people to copy.
I'm not going to try and reproduce all the issues here - you need to read the links - so much as highlight my perspective and ask some questions

This post started with some posts sent to me by Luann Udell (Luann Udell)  who's been running into some issues recently in connection with copying artwork.  You can see some of her jewellery and delightful figures inspired by ancient and tribal art below and more on her website and her online shop.

Horse Sculptures - copyright Luann Udell
I was going to try and summarise the posts and issues in this week's "who's made a mark" but as the summary kept getting longer and longer I decided to publish this post instead - because it started to generate questions in my head which I thought it might be useful to share with a wider audience - as part of a mutual learning experience for us all. (That's means I'm hoping people will comment!)

So we start with two more useful posts by Luann about copyright.  These are:
Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.
Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.
Kerrie Venner is the the IPCA Vice President of Education and Outreach although I understand she has now indicated to Luann that she was attempting to verbalise on the Association's site a thought many have expressed in the past - as some sort of “Everyman/Everywoman” if you will - and she had not intended these remarks to represent her own actions or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.

While it's good to have healthy debate about how best to deal with the perennially taxing and difficult issue of copyright and copying, I must confess I'm puzzled by Kerrie's notion of how best to do this. IMO the personal and the corporate need to be kept distinct.  Personal blogs are a much better place for articulating purely personal non-corporate thoughts! 
Is Intent the Issue?

For me the issue about copying usually boils down to the intent of the people who are copying.  Is it
  • either to learn a process - as part of their development as artists in whatever media (with no notion of generating sales from the learning projects)
  • or to hang onto an artist's coat tails and benefit from their income stream 
These are two very different activities. Plus of course copyright law allows the former (so long as this is for personal use) and not the latter (ie derivative work which generates income) without permission from the copyright holder.

However what Kerrie and Luann's posts together did do is generate a couple of interesting questions for me which have probably been percolating around at the back of my brain for some time.  I'm certainly very grateful to the two of them for enabling me to articulate it more clearly.

Does teaching generate "copycat" artwork?

The questions relate to teaching techniques and to what I would loosely term "copycat" work - where the artist who is trying to develop their own style is maybe still "borrowing" rather too much from their teacher.

It's certainly a frequent problem for very many people as they develop their own unique and dsitinctive styles - and it's not an easy one to resolve.

So here are my TWO QUESTIONS which fall out of the big simple question Does teaching art generate copying of art?:
  1. When you share your technique - whether this is online / in a book or article / through personal instruction - is there in fact an implicit suggestion that the person you teach can now copy your technique in its entirety? 
  2. Or can they use the technique in its entirety but only apply it to an artistic creation for sale when the artistic and aesthetic content is generated from their own personal experience and imagination
One person who commented on Luann's post indicated the following
When I teach or post, it is done in a way to inspire creativity and share the delight of making the work, not to have it duplicated without permission by someone else.
What do you think?


  1. Interesting thoughts and questions, Katherine. I'll have to read your links.

    I believe an instructor does understand that some aspects will be copied. I t6hink it also depends on if your audience is professional artists, "wanna make a $" folks, or "art is just a hobby" people.

    When taking a class, you're going to choose an instructor who's work you like. The question I usually ask myself is, "How'd they do that?" And I may take the class in hopes they might share and offer a little insight as to how they work. I think an instructor anticipates that they are sharing; part of the joy of teaching is giving back and watching someone else's "light go on" like yours did once when you were an instructor.

    Once you leave the class, you then may take some skills and embed within your own. I imagine my work has developed (and still will) due to classes I've taken. A strategy here, a mind-set there, a technique from another. Mixing them all together with my own visual voice to hopefully say what I need to say. Like adding spices to a stew, I hope to create my own favorite flavor. I think you can share a basic recipe, but it's what you do with it, what you add and subtract that makes it your own.

    Copying straight out (technique, style, subject matter, size, the whole shebang) and calling it your own? Criminal. But throughout history, we can see influences of instructors in an artist's work, and I don't see that as wrong. But it does make you wonder if any of the master painters of the past were ever accused of "stealing" from their teachers.

  2. Think I’m with Tracy on this.
    Teaching will inevitably generate copycat work in the class room. I teach painting and the students are more likely to learn and enjoy art from the best exponents of a technique other than the than the worst. I use several artists work to emphasis a point, Charles Reid for watercolour technique, Kurt Jackson for his paintings in mixed media of the sea. For the simplicity of using a few strokes I will look at Sovek or Kroll. It’s no different than schools using Van Gogh or Matisse as good exponents of a technique. Learning is a process and if people are to develop they need to know the ‘how to’. But I do say technique and not style.
    The problem arises when duplicating to learn takes a sinister twist and becomes duplication for duplications sake and then passing it off as your own hard journey that has culminated in this work. I think this can only ever be superficial art, as the duplicator has had no knowledge of the prior journey that saw the original work arrive at this point.
    I find it difficult to copy my own work but not the style. I think the wish of all teachers is that people will naturally develop their own style; they will only do this by learning the techniques. I don’t want to clone students who paint and draw like me, that is painting in my style, I would find this a little sad if this was all they hoped to achieve, to be able to paint in the style of someone else. For this reason I look at different artists for different techniques. Find technique, learn technique and forget technique…did I just copy Bruce Lee?

  3. I too agree with Tracy

    I think tutors who do a 'copy me', step by step, style of teaching do invite copy cats, though they may not mean to. They aren't teaching the student to think for themselves. I try to encourage student's individuality from the very first class and my classes are all very different from each other - and no-one copies me.

    Of course they learn techniques, ideas, ways of looking - but I ensure that they then go off and give it their own twist, own their own work. The artists Steve mentions are all amongst those I use to help them think, look at ways of expressing themselves, considering what it is they have to say and how best to say it, and building skills.

    You can't catch the emotional response or complex layers of the original so copies are rarely anything but a shadow

    I get politely cross with those who copy and forget to acknowledge and definitely very much so if they then put the work up for sale.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of the amount of spam and copying of my blog posts which is taking place. Removing them is taking too much time.
Please feel free to comment about the blog on my Facebook Page as my blog posts are always posted there but please note
1) anonymous comments are NEVER published
2) automated / spam / scam comments are never ever published on this blog
3) I ALWAYS block and report spammers to Google and/or on Facebook

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.