Sunday, June 29, 2014

Copies, reference photos, and things that go bump in the night...

Today, I thought I'd share a few paintings alongside the reference photos that inspired them. I've posted these images, and their corresponding reference photos, to introduce a (testy) commentary on an issue that just doesn't quit... 

"A Sunflower for Jane"

Reference photo, 6/2013
Reference photo, 12/2012
"Winter Day Dinner"
Available for purchase
Reference photo, 8/2012

"White Hibiscus"
Reference photo, 9/2012
"Patience I"
When I attend local art shows and exhibits, particularly those showing non-juried work, I'm sometimes surprised to see 'knock-offs' of paintings by other artists. Traditionally, art students have been encouraged to refine their skills and techniques by copying "Old Masters" (why don't we refer to artists like Judith Leyster, Berthe Morisot, or Rosa Bonheur as "Old Mistresses" ?). 

I remember that such copying sessions were part of our assigned 'homework' by my instructors at the Vesper George School of Art in Boston. Yet even as we copied, we labored under certain guidelines –– chiefly, never, ever copy someone else's work and pass it off as your creation.  U.S. copyright law is clear on this topic: 

"Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed."

For this reason, I'm taken aback when I see that an artist has reproduced, almost stroke-for-stroke, another artist's painting. It's fine to practice by making copies. It's a good way to learn new techniques, how to mix colors, etc. But what we paint in our studio is not always worthy of being sold (for lots of reasons...).

I display and sell my paintings in a professionally managed, online gallery. Recently I saw that a painting of mine had been copied so closely that it seemed inappropriate to have been passed off as someone else's. I've also seen other artists' work copied and being sold by a third-party 'artist.' Although intent is often difficult to document, in cases like this I disagree with the sentiment  "...imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." 

Those who exhibit or sell their work to the public are remiss in doing so when theirs is a near-copy of another artist's creation. Reference photos deserve similar consideration. As a studio artist, I was instructed long ago only to work from reference photographs that I have taken if I plan to exhibit or sell my painting. Photographers are sensitive about their work being copied without permission, just as most painters are.

Perhaps I sound cranky –– but I am not alone. Similar comments about 'creative plagiarism' appear on other painters' blogs and websites, and I've had conversations about this with other painters. We all agree: no one likes a copy-cat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Painting dilemma

Reference photo, 3/2012
Sometimes I get in a rut with a painting. For several months, I've been working on a scene based on some photos I took in Puerto Rico last year. I did a small study first, then decided I'd work on a larger version (22" x 15").

Everything was going well, but then I had to set the painting aside and devote my attention elsewhere. When I finally returned to it, my enthusiasm, or my focus, or something was out of whack.  In particular, wasn't happy with the effect of shadows on the white plaster.

I set the painting aside for a few days, hoping for inspiration the next time I went into my studio. When I did, I decided to work more loosely and allow the paint and water to mingle freely on the paper. The finished painting measures 13" x 18", and is available via my DPW auction.