Every other day I hear about how an artist gets their work ripped off by another artist. It could either be a popular artist who has her work plagiarized by another, lesser-known artist (which we’re going to discuss about here), or they’re being ripped off by big organizations.
Now, I’m no fan of plagiarism – particularly when big organizations take advantage of artists and do not give them their dues. I believe that there’s a bit of miscommunication in there somewhere, and ultimately the chain of command is long enough that the blame falls on an individual, rather than the entire corporation itself, but then I’m digressing. Copying is wrong, especially when profit is being made off of another person’s hard work.
But over here, I want to talk to you – the ones who copy others. We’ve all done it sometime or other before – copying another person’s style or technique; all in the name of learning. I know you don’t want to profit from another artist’s work (unless you do, in which case you might not exactly be the person who would be interested in what I have to say), but it was all done without a mean bone in your body right? It’s not meant to bring attention to yourself (even if it did, it would be the wrong kind of attention, I can guarantee you that much). So here’s a little advice for you – stay away from putting these sort of learning exercises online. Don’t put it up on your blog, or Instagram it, or put it on Flickr. Let it reside in your sketchbook, where it will only see the light of day when you will it. And that the only pair of eyes that it will ever see is yours.
Besides that though, if you’re merely copying the style and technique of an artist, you’re not learning much at all. You might learn something new that you can include in your repertoire of skills, but it’s not all there is to it. You see, there’s an even bigger take-away from all of this. A more important angle that you’re missing. One that you might not have even thought of before.
Stories, ideas, concepts, process.
Now those are the things you need to watch out for. They’re the most important elements that you can learn from an artist – the way they see, and the way they process their stories make for even bigger lessons than you’ve ever imagined. Because the biggest challenge when it comes to drawing isn’t so much about the technique – a big chunk of it has to do with the content. A pretty picture may arouse a few seconds of interest, but if you go beyond and find that it’s merely a hollow shell, you won’t remember it at all. Once you’ve set your sights on art and illustration that makes you think, or one that informs you about an idea, or a piece that delights and surprise you – it changes the game completely.
Taking with you the process and ideas of another artists will only strengthen your vision, when you make it your own. Look at it through your own eyes – filter it, digest it, and recreate things that hold your vision true. Don’t just take in things visually. Learn to listen instead – and you’ll find yourself learning about the true meaning of art. And you’ll never be second best if you do.
[Want more stories about plagiarism?: Check out issue #7 of the Good to Know series!]
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I’d love to hear from you – what lessons have you learnt by looking at other people’s work? And if you feel the need to confess, then by all means it’s time to let that burden go – tomorrow’s a new day!
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