This post is in many ways a continuation of previous blog posts. Again, it involves my students and their forced artistic transitioning from merely repeating exercises and completing assignments to using the skills and techniques to express what they want.
Their assignment for the next two classes is to create a piece that shows me what they have learned this semester (form, line, value, etc.). The only perimeter is that the piece has to be unique: no use of photos or other artist’s work as reference, no “fan art,” etc. It has to be wholly their idea, to the best of their knowledge, and completed in the 3hrs of class time we have this week. This perimeter, however, led to a very interesting conversation at the beginning of what I meant by wholly unique, specifically when does being influenced by someone’s work cross the line from being “inspired by” or “in the style of” to plagiarism. The resolution, at least for this class, was that they could explore the same concept as an artist they liked or attempt to work in the style of an artist they admired but covering a different subject. For instance, the student who asked the question is attempting to work in a style similar to the works by Matisse we have looked at in class, but using the still life materials available in the classroom rather than copying a particular set-up.
As the class worked I thought about my relationship with the works of other artists. When I was a younger artist I made a lot of work that was more or less a copy of some other artist’s work or style. Or I would take a character, let’s say Batman for instance, and make my version of them. I would see someone else’s work and think “Wow that is so much better than my work” and then proceed to try and incorporate it into what I was doing. In essence I would try and take the power I found in their work and make it my own.
Although I still find the work of others inspiring my relationship to it has changed. I no longer go to that well to find inspiration in the same way. Now when I approach art, be it visual, musical, dance, etc., I tend to approach it for what it is and appreciate it for what it is saying, not so much as a place to mine for ideas. Don’t get me wrong there are still pieces, like Jonas Odell’s Revolver, that I keep revisiting and occasionally I had or subtract from their small number. But, this small coterie of artists and work are more like friends I can have a conversation with to help get me out of a rut, rather than places to garner new ideas or techniques. To further bastardize a heavily bastardized quote, perhaps, artistically speaking, I’ve already stolen enough.