The Work of the Copyist

Steal from every one but copy no one.

              –Charles Movalli

 

I received a call yesterday from a gallery in another state that sells my work.  They mentioned during the call that a painter living in their city, who is a regular attendee of the events at their gallery, was selling work at another gallery there that was looked to be copies of my work.  They were a bit upset and asked that I take a look and see what I thought.

So I went to the other gallery’s website and clicking on the artist’s name was surprised to see four pieces that, at first glance, looked very much like my work.  All of the four pieces had compositions that were very much like mine.  No big deal, lot’s of paintings use similar elemental compositions. 

 The color palette was very much like mine as well but, again, no big deal. 

 The texture of the panel was very evident and one had a pronounced fingerpaint-like feel, one that I use often.  Again, not a big deal.  I often outline my normal technique at gallery talks and have described the process I use here in this blog.

The artist used trees as the central character in his pieces but who hasn’t at some point?  He used a blowing tree with reddish leaves and intertwined trees as well, both staples of my work.  Is any of this a big deal?

I want to say no.  I have had a number of people over the years do this with my work ( even to the point of adopting my own titles for their copies) and I have always resignedly viewed it as a form of flattery.  They obviously have seen something in the work that makes them want to try to recreate it in their own form.  There’s a form of validation for the original in this copying, a verification that something is working well.

It only becomes a problem for me when the copying painter stays solely in the realm of my work and doesn’t evolve their work into something that has its own voice and vocabulary of imagery.  Serving as inspiration and influence in the form of being copied is fine for the short term but a real artist will soon move beyond the inspiration and create work that is their’s and their’s alone.  Would we know the name Van Gogh if he had continued copying works such as Millet’s The Sower, as he did early in his painting life?

The problem of copying other people’s work is that, while one can try to emulate composition, strokes, texture and color, there is no way of copying the intent and mindset behind the original.  Or the rhythm of the actual physical act of the original artist.  Basing one’s work solely on the work of another reduces that person to the level of a musician playing in a cover band, playing the hits of others.  That’s fine and dandy,  if that is this person’s only aspiration but most people turn to art because they feel a need for self-expression, to create something that says who and what they are.

I know that’s why I came to painting.

Now, I happen to know this person whose work so resembles mine and have known him for a number of years, having done business with him at one point.  He’s a really good guy and I don’t suspect for minute there is anything amiss in his study of my work.  Hopefully, his work will soon start to make the evolution and I will see only his mind’s voice at work when I check on his work in the future.

Which I will…

———Posted by Gary Myers

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One Response to The Work of the Copyist

  1. tom gardner says:

    Eloquently stated, Gary, you are an artist with the words too.

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