Originality and Creating Art - March 2018
I realise that this title may lead some to think that I will be discussing Post Modernism and Contemporary art, discussing the well-worn argument that “everything has been done before” therefore there can be no originality. However, this idea probably needs a 10,000-word essay or book, which many art historians and critics have done before me. This blog is about finding your own source material and inspiration to ensure that your creativity is original (in this sense) rather than plagiarising others.
I always ask my students to bring inspiration to my classes to work or copy from; this can either be a photograph or object. As a student, they often turn to the internet and find either photographs or other artists work to work from and then worry about breaking copyright. As a student, they are working from these images for educational purposes and won’t be selling or attempting to sell their work, therefore they haven’t “stolen” plagiarised or broken any copyright laws (in the UK), as they are not trying to pass it off as their own or benefit financially from it. Instead they are learning, which I feel is invaluable for a student because by trying to replicate a masterpiece, they start to have a fundamental understanding on how the artist created the art work. For example, Constable would have painted the trees over the sky background rather than trying to fill in the background around the branches and leaves. Going to galleries and copying the Masters has been a conventional learning tool for centuries for the art student.
Sadly, during the last few years I have noticed some artists selling work in galleries that they have copied from a photograph that is not their own. I know this because they have not changed the riginal photo sufficiently, and I recognise the photo in which they have copied it from! Now there are two issues here; if artists change the original image enough, they can sell it as their own (this is important for collage artists). However, I don’t believe the artists I have seen have changed it enough to comply with copyright law, because I have recognised the photo in which they have copied it from. Secondly, photographers need to be paid for their efforts and artists should not simply copy for financial gain. For those who are reading this and have an understanding of art history, you are bound to point out that artists have been copying images from the media for years, and yes that is true. For example, Andy Warhol comes to mind, but, he was making a statement about pop culture. The artists I am referring to, are not doing this, they are merely copying a pretty picture which they think will sell. This makes me sad, not only for the photographer who has often sat in the cold and wet to capture their perfect image, but also for the artist who is doing the copying.
What is the point in simply copying a photo and then selling it? No creativity has gone into this. Technique, in how to use the materials, yes, and a demonstration of observational skills on capturing the composition and drawing the detail. Worse, if they have gridded up (split the photo into small squares and then draw the image a square at a time), or used a projector then they are not even demonstrating observational skills. I do believe artists should have a concept and share their passion/ideas/philosophy with the world. For me, art is communication, there is something not quite tangible about my passion for the natural world, that cannot be described with words and therefore I paint.
I was asked to do a commission of a Buddha and a lotus, so I spent a whole day with my model, sketching and dressing him in Buddha poses. When I drew the human form in a Buddha pose, I needed to know where and how the muscles tightened. It was also important to see how the limbs were foreshortened and the foot twisted at the ankle. To me this is essential research, not only to make the final artwork my own creation, but also to be accurate in my representation of the human form. Artists that get one photo and copy it directly are not experiencing this.
For the past 4 months, I have been researching birds. I’m not sure when and if they will appear in one of my paintings in the future, but I am currently fascinated by them. It is not simply I record their behaviour with my camera, but I sit and watch their interactions, watch them ruffle their feathers when they have a wash and aggressively chirrup at each other when fighting over the peanuts. I want to capture their characteristics, and I am guilty of anthropomorphising them, as I watch them I imagine their little personalities and what they may say to one another if they had words – silly I know! (My current research has successfully documented blue tits, great tits, but the robin, evades the shutters of my camera at every turn! The robin is a fond friend, and a daily visitor to our garden during the Autumn and Winter months, he is also fairly tame as most gardeners will attest to as they hop around your digging to capture the odd unearthed worm. BUT! Even though my robin is fairly tame, he is extremely camera shy and I have been debating for many years to put a small camera trap in our garden to capture the wildlife, but sadly I haven’t got around to this yet. Each time I reach for the camera the robin either hops away or seductively turns his head across his back which of course is turned towards the camera! Now this little game has been going on for months, I have finally got a nice side shot this weekend of him, but for so long I have only had the rear view…
I have found the cat and mouse game with this robin, quite frustrating but I have also enjoyed the “tete-a-tete” and even as I write this he is teasing me through my office window. To me, it is this process that adds to my work. It isn’t just about capturing the fleeting bird as it leaves the garden, but it is observing it and enjoying watching the robin’s behaviour. To me it is this research that adds to my art work. I have a fairly long process before primary research reaches my final paintings, which I will be discussing in my blog in April. It is this research and experience that I hope gives an extra dimension to art work, which sadly those artists who simply copy the photo published in the newspaper or on the internet are not adding to their work. For both themselves and their own integrity I urge them to spend some time experiencing the world and documenting their own primary research.
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