Is copying really okay in the art world? How about stealing? What does it mean for an artist to "steal?" Copying is a huge part of our training as artists--it is a vehicle through which we learn the techniques that we will later use to create our own works of art. Copying can even be considered a compliment; it means that you think something is worthy of being repeated, or learned. Stealing, on the other hand, is a much more powerful word---associated with taking something that is not yours without permission or intention to return. So, do great artists STEAL? Is this what Pablo Picasso was saying?
While I'm sure some artists do STEAL ideas or actually pieces of artwork, and claim them as their own, I would argue that truly great artists BUILD. In my opinion, the creation of art is the beginning of a conversation. Once the artist is finished with the piece, he/she is leaving the conversation for the time being. They may continue the conversation with a series of works, or they may leave that idea entirely, in pursuit of another subject. When another artist happens upon that piece of work, if they are inspired by the ideas of that artist, they will continue the conversation--perhaps exploring a similar subject or technique, or maybe responding to something they experienced in that work of art. Great artists BUILD on ideas. They see other works of art as endless opportunities for their own growth as an artist.
Last weekend I visited the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, where they had a special folk art exhibit. As I was walking through the exhibit, I became mesmerized by one particular piece:
Although I'm not sure where this painting is going to take me, I am excited about my piece in this conversation. Experiencing other works of art is so vital to my creative process; It is through making art that I can reflect on my experiences and observations.
Becoming involved in a conversation with a work of art is not solely for artists. Anyone who views a painting is beginning a conversation. Now, as is the case with any type of interaction, you have the choice to engage in conversation, based on your interests and discretion. There may be some works of art that you have no interest in beginning a conversation with. However, when you find a work of art that you are naturally drawn to, you might spend some time looking at the composition, discussing the piece with a friend, or just letting your imagination run wild for awhile. All of this is BUILDING on the conversation started by the artist.
Wishing you all lots of delightfully engaging art conversations over the upcoming holidays!