Monday Morning Art School: nobody can copy you

Tilt-A-Whirl, oil on archival canvasboard, $869 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Bobbi Heath sent me a post yesterday called How to Deal With Copycats, which I promised I’d read before I blogged this morning. “I’m never that worried about what other people are doing,” I added. She told me not to bother reading it but to just write about the subject, so that’s what I’m doing.

A few decades ago, a woman came up to my booth at a show and took a photo of one of my paintings. “I want to copy it,” she told me, apparently unaware of the etiquette of stealing others’ ideas. (First rule: don’t broadcast your intentions.)

“Good luck with that,” I told her.

There are some brilliant copyists out there. They’re called forgers, and I admire their ability to channel their creativity into chemistry rather than the business of brushstrokes. I’m too idiosyncratic myself, and I suspect most of us are. We have an inner vision that’s too strong to be overridden.

I am insufficiently dead to attract the attention of forgers. Those other copyists are called ‘amateurs’ and if their copying doesn’t affect the value of my work or my reputation, I don’t care what they do.

In Control (Grace and her Unicorn), 24X30, $3,478 framed, oil on canvas, includes shipping in continental United States.

Sometimes copying is about learning

I look at the work of Tom Root for his brushwork, Tara Will for her audacity, Cynthia Rosen for her palette knife virtuosity, Eric Jacobsen for his scumbling, and Colin Page for his color. I have no hesitation about copying passages to be sure I understand how they achieved the effect that interested me.

Is that being a copycat? No; it’s being a lifelong learner.

Best Buds, 11X14, oil on canvasboard, $1087 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

Paintings are mostly about what isn’t stated

It’s your inner vision that makes you unique, both as a painter and a person. I’ve taught painting for many years and one of my go-to lessons is to ask students to copy a masterwork. Can they make a perfect JMW Turner or Rockwell Kent or Emily Carr? Absolutely not; their own personality always seeps out through every brushstroke. That’s even true when I ask them to concentrate on brushwork.

A person who wants to copy your work or style is devoid of that strong inner vision. That means he or she won’t understand your viewpoint in the first place, which would make real mimicry impossible.

Beauchamp Point, Autumn Leaves, 12X16, oil on archival canvasboard, $1449 framed includes shipping and handling in continental US.

What is style, anyway?

Years ago, a painting teacher told me that heavy outlines were my style. He was wrong; they were just an inability to marry edges (which I hadn’t been taught yet). That’s an argument for not even thinking about style until you’ve developed serious painting chops. Style is different from being stylish, to which we should all aspire.

Style is the gap between your inner vision and your ability to render it. That disconnect may be caused by bad painting chops. It can equally be caused by something subconscious that elevates, rather than diminishes, your vision.

Vincent van Gogh is an eloquent example of this. His obsessive need to put his inner vision on canvas tells us he never quite succeeded in matching up his brush with his mind. We’ve all benefited immeasurably from that disconnect, since his style has profoundly influenced modern art.

But what about AI?

I feel about AI the same way I do amateur copyists. At this point in its development, it’s easy to pick out AI-generated art online. Maybe someday AI will be good enough to look like it has a heart, but we’re not there yet.

My 2024 workshops:

5 Replies to “Monday Morning Art School: nobody can copy you”

    1. On a similar note. Our group was having a show and someone questioned the liability, “What if someone steals a painting?”. My comment was ” You should be honored that they chose yours to steal”.

  1. I agree that “insufficiently dead’ was good. I disagree about egregious art theft (e.g. the booth lady) – if all you said was “good luck” you missed an opportunity to educate. (I know; random stranger, not your job, etc. etc.) But there is a difference between stealing for education (Steal Like an Artist is a good book FTR) and stealing for profit/gain or because you just DGAF (hence my issues with AI.) I don’t care if people copy my work to learn; I DO care if they steal my ideas, replicate my work and claim it as their own. That’s happened more than once and it feels, frankly, gross. I also agree it’s an amateur move; in those instances I had an opportunity to educate the copycats, who obligingly and regretfully took their work down – as far as I know, permanently. In another instance the copycat had copied a very well known painter, posted her (fairly decent) copy in a show, took a prize, and sold the work. (The other artists in the show were, understandably, miffed.) Carol, you are spot on in this: the professional learner (lifetime learner, pro artist, whatever you want to call is) copies style, methodology, process etc. to learn and weaves the resultant learning into their own craft; the copyist stultifies his/her craft because they stop there. Claiming others’ work as your own just adds insult to injury.
    ps I feel like we should be having this discussion over a cup of coffee and a muffin admiring a spacious mountain view. šŸ˜‰

Comments are closed.