Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fair Game or Foul Play?

The art world is a mine field of potential plagiarism. There are only so many colors in the spectrum and only so many ways to really make use of different materials so the chance for pieces of art to look somewhat alike is fairly likely from time to time. A superstar artist was successfully sued recently by a “little guy” who happened to see one of his photos used in a piece by the famous guy. Artists throughout time have sought inspiration from other artists’ works. Styles and techniques of various artists, especially distinct ones like Jackson Pollock, are used in classrooms all the time to teach various principles of art. Pieces that are public domain, such as the Mona Lisa, become part of our pop culture having been used over and over in various reincarnations (I’ve used her too….). So one can see how artworks can by happenstance look “alike” every now and then. I am sure ideas are borrowed all the time and should be appropriately credited or attributed, or perhaps just even referenced by which I mean the creators could say…..”we saw something like this a few years ago by _____, and wanted to try our own version”, but I guess that might be assuming too much and what follows is perhaps just a cowinkydink.

Now mind you, I have no ability to remember faces all that well, let alone names, but a piece of art….now I can recall an image from 30 years ago, where I saw it and a lot about it. So a two year span is nothing. By the way, this incident is not about me or my work. It is about another artist in town. She will recognize herself in due time as I know she reads this blog. She and I did a luncheon together a couple of years ago that was about women and art (the theme for that year). She was the featured guest and did a large interactive piece/mural/painting/project on site as part of the event and the attendees all contributed a few thoughts on paper. Now said artist has a very distinctive style and a very distinctive and unique approach to this type of project especially when making a public art piece. Goodness do I sound vague or what! Yes, I do, I am trying to not make any accusations only a connection and maybe even a point at some point. So anyway, today, I got a newsletter type pamphlet in the mail and towards the back was a photo of 2 people standing next to a painting. I glanced only at the work, remarked in my head to myself (like who else is going to be in my head….well, okay, that is debatable for another time…) that said artist had made another piece, this time for the ____ group, and that’s cool. Glad to see another one out there.

I read the article, read it again, and still did not see said artist’s name….that’s weird. I know I have seen that type/style work before. Even the application of other people’s written thoughts on paper were apparent and mentioned. So just to double check my aging brain, I got on her website because the artist and the luncheon project I reference are on her home page. Matter of fact, I have it up on the screen as I write this with the newsletter image right beside it. Yeah…..I would call the one in the newsletter a direct rip off of the luncheon one, but probably not intentional. What probably happened is that someone saw the original piece, liked the idea and decided to use it. That is okay, if the intellectual property of the original (source of inspiration) artist is respected and acknowledged as such. One can’t say it is a copy by definition as the images are totally different, but the style and the technique are a bit too close for comfort. Hey, for all I know the newsletter artists asked the luncheon artist if it was okay to use her idea or to even give some advice, but that connection is not mentioned anywhere. If she did give the okay or the advice, well darn it girlfriend, they should have mentioned you! PR is PR no matter how we get it.

I am only making this point because as artists, we work hard to develop our “signature” work, the visual voice that becomes our recognizable style, and like it or not, like cellulite, it just hangs around us for the rest of our lives no matter what, even if we try and change every now and then. In a small town where one’s imagery is distinctive and hence associative, we have to be careful that it remains “ours”. Public art is a wonderful thing as long as it is only enjoyed by the public, for they are not entitled to it in any way beyond that.

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