Monday, February 18, 2008

My Art Advice: If I post my work online doesn't that mean that someone is more apt to steal my style? I don't want people to paint like I do!

This is another common question that is asked of me. It can be hard to define 'style', it is one of those issues that can be debated. With that said, your use of 'style' implies the manner in which you paint, the methods you use, the marks that you make with your brush, and the fear that someone will create images utilizing those same kind of marks and methods. With that said, if someone steals your style you should feel honored-- it must mean that you are doing something right in the eyes of someone. More power to the style 'borrowers', 'thieves', and 'cutthroats'! Why do I declare this? Because if you observe this issue within the context of art history you will find that this 'visual theft' of style gives rise to new movements in art and to new styles all together. So this fear of having your style 'stolen' should not be your main concern when uploading art online. In other words, you should focus on doing what YOU are doing and accept the fact that you are part of a visual tradition.

This concern over 'style theft' is common. I frequent several art forums and find that many artists think that they own their 'style'. These artists get very upset when another artist decides to work in a similar manner. Legally speaking, you can't copyright an artistic style. The image itself is copyrighted, but not the manner in which you created it-- the methods you used and the marks that you made. Allow me to repeat that in bold-- YOU CAN'T COPYRIGHT AN ARTISTIC STYLE! For example, if you paint blue figures with white backgrounds you can't file suit if someone else does the same unless the paintings are very close to being identical. There is not much that you can do legally if an artist utilizes the same types of marks, the same colors, and even similar subject matter. If this was the case people would not bother to paint!

Still worried about people stealing your 'style' if you upload your work online? Think of it this way, are you influenced or inspired by another artist or perhaps an art movement from the past? If so, in some way-- even if it is buried in your mind --you are 'stealing' from those styles... those ideas. You are utilizing similar marks and taking a similar direction with your art-- marks and direction that you may not have taken had you not had knowledge of that artist or art movement. By doing so, you add an authentic touch to that visual tradition-- but you can't deny the debt that you owe to those who have came before.

Styles and methods of creation have been 'borrowed' throughout time. One artist will 'take' ideas from another artist or a group of artists and build upon it. We all owe a certain debt to artists who have came before... so it is naive to think that your 'style' is free from the observation and exploration of others-- I would go as far as to say that it is a sign of insecurity if you feel that way. Thus, who are you to say that your art should be free from the observation and exploration of your peers?

I will go further with this! I think it is safe to say that every artist has told visual white lies with their work-- we are all inspired or influenced by someone-- and those ideas are molded into our practice-- even if we are not aware of it. One could say that this is a glorified type of theft. In that sense, every artist is a thief. So if you are worried about someone 'stealing' your 'style'... step back-- view your work --and ask yourself how many artists you've stolen or borrowed from. After giving this some thought... ask yourself how many artists they have stolen or borrowed from. At that point you will see how the cards are stacked and you will be less likely to conceal your hand.

We do 'borrow' or 'steal'-- though steal might be a bold choice of word --from other artists regardless if we admit it or not... or are even aware of it. Show me your work and I can show you the work of a dozen artists who worked in a similar manner-- artists who have had a lot of exposure... meaning that at some point you have probably observed their work in a book, magazine, or on TV. Think of it this way, when we are young a peer draws a smiley face in class-- what happens next? A dozen kids end up drawing a smiley face and each add their own bit of truth to it. However, the original motivation to draw the smiley face was 'borrowed' or 'stolen' from the kid who did it first. Each child adds his or her own perspective to the original image that had been etched into his or her mind, but the foundation for that creation can be traced back to the child who drew it first in the classroom. Those of you who have taught will know exactly what mean. Is that not theft of style on its most basic terms? Does it matter?

I'm not suggesting that people should openly steal styles, but if someone does it to you... don't feel so bad. As I mentioned, it obviously means you are doing something right. Your focus should be on creating new works. In a sense, we humans are conditioned to borrow ideas, to steal ideas, to build upon the information that we have observed-- and make it our own. This is not exactly a negative trait... and none of us are above it. As far as art is concerned, we experience this theft in our youth the first time we draw a smiley face... so why do we feel that we are above it later in life? Why feel that your art should be protected from the thoughts and actions of others?

Here is my direct answer to this question-- if someone wants to 'borrow' or 'steal' your 'style'-- let them without a second thought. Chances are they will not have the same energy in their work that you do. Who knows... maybe they will end up utilizing the skills they have learned from 'borrowing' in order to develop their own visual direction. Perhaps they will end up doing what you do-- better. That is how art movements are made and shaped. It is the foundation of art history! To fear this is nothing more than a sign of insecurity. Again, that is my opinion-- and I understand that it is a philosophical one --take it for what it is worth.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

really nice post!
what makes one being afraid is their ego i supose, and thats defenantly not how one should relate to their art, so I totally agree


Anonymous said...

Most artists are influenced by the work of other artists. But a theif is just a scumbag who can't create for himself and is so feeble in talent he would try to take the ideas of others and copy them. But the joke will be on the thief because stealing only puts a straight jacket on their own creativity and renders the a robotic talent free prositute. A person's style in art is usually their own if they are an honest artist. Influences do not determine personal style otherwise all art would look like the person's art they to which they are influenced.. Fads do not always determine the longevity and popularity of a particular style.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that some folks believe style is their we have our own particular style...but it's not derived out of thin air and it's always evolving...Or we should hope so anyway. I don't believe anyone's style is ONLY their own...we are all influenced by everything we see and everyone we meet. The only artist that could safely say that their style was ONLY theirs would probably be the cave painter.

RJ said...

I recently read the excellent biography of Willem de Kooning (by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan). One of the things that I underlined was something that de Kooning said about style:

"Style is a fraud... To desire to make a style is an apology for one's anxiety."

Anonymous said...

Hiya Brian,

I agree with everything that you say there,but I think there is one point that you haven't made.With the internet the whole world can see an artwork work as soon as it is finished.In the past this has been a more gradual proccess.If an artist produces work which can profit them, financialy or give them critical recognition,there is now more chance of losing one or both of these,simply because of the speed at which their work can be "copied".I'm sure that this will lead to life changing(or not) circumstances for some artists.I don't really think there is a solution to reducing the risk this "problem",other than not putting work on the internet.
Personally I've not exhibited any work for years,so this is an easy way for me to show a few pieces.


Anonymous said...

I really dont think it matters, does it ? you still make the art you do and they make what they do reguardless of stealing it from you. How does this change the art you make ? Then I search for an un copyable art form so none can take it ? I guess I'm the kind of person the doesn't care about the outcome as long as your happy with what you make, what does it matter what others are doing or making. I recently went to England to meet a fellow artist here from the forum, and took my paints with and showed him exactly how I make them. we painted one let him steal my style..good luck to him I say, hope he does well..I think not since he has his own style. I dont think it would bother me either way.

Anonymous said...

There are two trains of thought running through these comments - first, most are ruminations on the nature of talent and personal originality vs. talent being a kind of 'community property' (after over 150 years of being able to reproduce images faster and faster, we are further and further removed from any value on the original - as W. Benjamin pointed out more than half a century ago now - We've been getting to this stage for a long time.); second, occasional points are made about the 'market' factor and the need to be 'original' being linked not just to ego but to the ability to survive and thrive.
There's always been a kind of race to be the 'one', the 'original' -- Like Daguerre in France and Talbot in England racing to present to their respective Academies of Science in 1839 that each was the first to define/announce the new 'science of photography', when it had been being developed by many for years previous to that.
It's probably better to be part of the 'zeitgeist' - especially if the guiding principal is generosity - than to be overly righteous about ego or fearful about pofitability. The zeitgeist now seems to be about the dissolving of personal boundaries through cyberspace-- In a way it's probably one of the strongest leanings toward a kind of spiritual generosity outside of oppressive traditional religions in our current world -- no body, no personal possessions, just thoughts, language, ideas, images. Bottom line, I guess you can't loose your originality (the original way in which you've expressed all the influences in your life and practice). And though you can loose your opportunity to profit from it, the ability to profit from it takes a lifetime of hard work for ANYONE who takes on the challenge. The 'thief' won't profit as instantaneously as is implied here anyway. So I say go for it - and just keep working creatively and strategically.

Anonymous said...

It's not healthy or productive to work in a vacuum. Look at every recorded movement in art history and see the influences artists sharing had on one another. Artists are the most giving individuals on the planet and only positive direction can come from networking whether it be "live" or "virtually".

Jeffrey Collins said...

Yeah I don't think it's healthy to try to hide your work because you fear theft of your artistic creativity. People learn from one another, I have learned so much from watching other people's painting styles and reading about painting that it has really helped me push my work further than I had in the past. You might as well not even be an artist if you are going to not show it.

Great blog!