Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Imitation = flattery?

Sometimes yes.

Sometimes no.

I have been contemplating posting about this for some time.

In part due to an interesting recent (and still ongoing) conversation on Orchid about a law suit for copyright infringement. Then in part due to a conversation which was brought up in a thread on Etsy.

Then I scrapped it all because one conversation apparently spilled over into real life and there were hurt feelings and damaged relationships. I guess right now I'm just trying to figure out what I think about all the different nuances I can see, and also to invite others thoughts.

In the conversation that I was part of, I took a vague and overall general approach and simply said:

".........there are relatively few truly 'new ideas'. I go with the idea "there is nothing new under the sun". As ___ said - its how we put it together. I believe we all take in the world around us, some gets filtered out, much of it gets soaked in though.

Apart from those who sit down with a picture of something and set out to mimic it - - - when we create we draw on (from) all of our past experiences, sights, sounds, tastes, smells, emotions, etc. . . there is a shared commonality to humankind - it is no wonder that we then find a similarity in the work we produce.

I do not condone blatant copying, but can appreciate that we have a shared commonality.

Even when I believe there is blatant copying - I try to put a spin on it:'great minds think alike' - it helps me give the benefit of the doubt and keep a positive outlook. ;-) "

I could have said more, but felt that sort of summed it up.

In reality, just recently, I was almost stunned to have seen someone post a new piece they made in their blog and then just a few days to a week later see such a close item listed somewhere else for sale. And this wasn't a typical design, this was something really rather unique in working with resin. I immediately thought - 'copy!' but then just as immediately thought, well, it appears that way anyway. Truth is, I can't know. Not for sure. And who knows if the first person didn't see it somewhere else even? Or the second person may have seen it somewhere else.....who knows?

I have been online for a fair number of years now, definitely all the short time I've been making jewelry, and it never ceases to amaze me that so many 'online artists' seem to think that online is the ONLY place people are making jewelry. Forums, social networks, online galleries and photo storage sites have created this microcosm community that almost begins to think that they are all there is. In reality, there are many many many jewelry artists working in 'obscurity'...or at least with an offline presence in the world. Its a big big world out there people!

I personally would NEVER accuse someone of copying or 'stealing' ideas. I might say, "hey, wow! that looks a lot like so and so's work" and 9 times out of 10 the person will say, "yea, it does!!" and we have a good laugh and/or remind ourselves how pervasive ideas can be, or they will say that they were inspired by that person and take it as a compliment.

I myself have loads of inspiration photos - in books and in binders - some are plastered to the walls of my studio. Some come in the form of jewelry. I don't set out to mimic anyone but I'm not suprised when I can see the influence of others in my work. I'm happy to be inspired by some of the best. ;-) And I'm thrilled when I can inspire someone else.

I believe as artists we need to be true to that distinct inner voice we each have and create as we are led by whats inside. And whats inside is most assuredly influenced by everything around us. I do believe that imitation is a form of flattery.........and if I can inspire anyone then I think my art has spoken its intent. And I hope the inspiration compels others to create new and original works of art. I guess I believe 'art' is just that - new and original. A cheap knockoff is just a replica, a 'work' but not necessarily 'art'.

In the end I think the take home message for myself is this:
Be inspired. Imitate when necessary, but push it forward by listening to that creative voice inside.

When we start out, we are led by teachers, tutorials, lessons, etc. Often we create a project based on those things. Some people don't move beyond that, they have found something they are comfortable with and it works for them. But they are limited. If you are creating from within, you are never really limited.

In addition, I think some people, especially those who are 'self taught' will often look at other works and then replicate them as a method of self directed learning. I find this a lot with close knit groups of artists. Often its a byproduct of the community sharing atmosphere...if they don't have a problem with it amongst themselves, why should anyone else? Again, I have to go back to the idea of not inferring from my limited and outside perspective or jumping to conclusions based on limited information.

"For now we see through a glass but dimly........."

In the end, I don't see imitation as being a horrible thing, when used in a limited and careful way. If someone's actions are actually damaging someone elses livelihood, well, thats another story......for another day.



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  1. Oooh thats alot of words Janice! I agree though that there are relatively few 'new' ideas and who is to say that a few people cannot come up with the same idea/design totally independently from one another.

    Copying a design/idea is also a good way to learn technique.

    The only copying I'm not fine with are those knock-off 'designer' goods made in sweatshops in third world contries.

    Fab topic Janice!

  2. Its such a fine line- I am new to metalsmithing, and there are several Etsy artist that have just blown me away, so I want to see if I can replicate certain aspects of their design or learn similar techniques, but I wonder when does the piece (or does it ever) ceases to be their's and become mine - even if I change aspects of the original design to add my own twist to it. I also see many people with similar styles where I don't believe anyone is copying anyone else, they may just inherantly have a similar style/feel to their work. I guess at the end of the day we collectively just need to be true to ourselves and try and grow and stretch our skills and look outside into our own lives to seek inspiration and go from there.

  3. Well said, and I agree. Sometimes an artist may see a piece and later on make something similar, never meaning to copy, just from the impression it left in their mind. I am often inspired by other's work.

  4. Very well said Janice.
    I share most of your views about this issue.

  5. Nicely said! I think it is a subject we all, at one time are another, struggle with.

  6. Very well said Janice. All of that info can sort make of make ones mind spin. I agree there are very few new ideas...I feel it comes down to how the artist/designer puts it all together in the end. I could say more (lots more), but my heads tired tonight and I'm just not up for it.

  7. <---agree, and it all comes down to how a situation is dealt with. Actions speak volumes. And we all make mistakes in our reactions at times...but there is always time and room to talk things out and be stronger from it. (maybe sometimes not...) I dunno...

  8. wonderful thoughts janice, thanks for sharing them.

  9. Agreed, Janice! Well said.

  10. I agree, I was reading a etsy blogger who said she was afraid to show because it would be copied immediately and yet, in my estimation she was copying from someone else already, or I had seen something the like, so it truely wasn't her's to own in the first place?

  11. Hi all! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!! I appreciate you all so much. :)

    Vicky - I was kinda wordy huh?

    Welcome Susie! You said this:
    "...but I wonder when does the piece (or does it ever) ceases to be their's and become mine - even if I change aspects of the original design to add my own twist to it."

    Thats a really good question and I don't know the answer. Some people have formulas - - a percentage they work with - I dunno - I figure if you're doing more than changing the color of something, then you've got something new even if its not totally original. Some works are more heavily influenced than others. (?) But I really don't know. I think people have to come to terms with that on their own. I sometimes sit down and try to make something similar ot someone else, I too am self taught, so its been a good learning method. I don't sell those pieces (heck, I just started selling at all!) and most often I end up changing it anyway. Its been a really rare thing that I sit down and make EXACTLY what I think I am going to make. I guess I'd also say if it doesn't 'feel right' then don't sell it - keep it - and then work to expand and design from within. Ya know? The fact that you are questioning it at all probably means you aren't going to be duplicating others for long, even if you may find yourself leaning that way right now.

    ((Candace)) - get some rest. Hope your feeling right as rain. :)

    Carolyn -- I agree. As with anything in life that we encounter - we have options on how we react - how we approach things. Although I do like to think "there is always room to talk things out" I also know there are times to walk away.....but either way, we can be stronger from the trials we face in life. I truly don't know all what went down with the one situation so I can't say more than that! ((hugs))

    KKreates - I hate to see that 'fear' in people. But the thing is, unless you are creating and putting it in a box, someone is eventually going to see it. Right? So why not put it out there. At least that way, if there every IS an issue, there is a timeline to document some of it. I can pull photos that were posted online ages ago of some of my work. I belong to a couple of forums where there are REGULAR participants who NEVER show a thing. I sometimes wonder, do they really make jewelry at all? I know they can talk about it - but boy, I'd love to see their work!! lol

    Thanks again everyone, and do keep the thoughts coming - I appreciate different perspectives, it helps me reconsider things and grow.

  12. I couldn't have said it better. I agree with each and everything you have written.

  13. My thoughts exactly. Our human minds can take in so much information, most we do not realize in our subconscious mind, and we use these ideas without realizing that we have seen something similar before. I recently viewed a video clip how Derren Brown influenced the creative ideas of graphic artists using subliminal messages. It demonstrates this point well.

  14. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter. I value your opinions and I agree with you.

  15. Hi Janice,

    I think you are spot on with this. I have heard of some people who imitate, but the quality of their work shows.

    I get inspiration for a lot of things and feel like I put my spin on them. The artists that I know are never threatened by imitators and I think you've implied that here in your post.

    Great topic. Thanks.

  16. There really aren't any new ideas at all, in anything. Just different slants on the same basic ideas that have already been done since time began. "New" ideas, when boiled down to their basics always have strong roots firmly set in the foundation stones of the old. It's just how it is...

    It's also amazing how ideas percolate across this world, sometimes given form by many people at almost the same time who have no clue of each others work.

    Any time I have what I think is an original idea I remind myself that someone's had it before, most likely thousands of someones or more, and that future someones will have this idea as well and a few will be tricked in to thinking they are the original thinkers by their ego.

    All that being said there are huge differences with blatantly coping someone's ideas and borrowing an aspect of an idea and truly forging ones own path.

    Unfortunately proving and fighting copyright issues can be a part of any artists world, one that turns extremely expensive once lawyers are involved.