Art and Influences

This morning I was struck to leave a lengthy comment on the blog of an artist whom I admire and have been following for awhile. Art & Ghosts has unfortunately been experiencing some copycat problems. My heart went out to her after reading her oh so eloquent post attempting to deal with the issue. It opened a discussion on inspiration and influence verses copies. There is a distinct difference.
In my early youth, I downright copied (with tracing paper even!) the work of artists that I admired. I would color in and paint over and play and that is basically how I taught myself to draw faces. Just like a musician would learn to play by picking through their favorite songs. But would they ever think of going out and claiming that song was their own? Hell no. Just like I could never imagine EVER showing those early drawings and paintings to the public at large. Much less attempting to sell them. They are so blatantly not mine! Which is why I cannot imagine that there are people out there who copy the work of other artists and are trying to do just that - to sell it as their own. How dreadful! And it is becoming more and more prevalent in our digital age.
Through many years and tons more artistic development, I've reached a point of my own visual language and style that I'm proud of. And even then, I'm still working through and playing with new ideas and techniques. I think that many artists do - this is natural. Throughout history artists have been fueled by each other. Just look at the Impressionist movement! But it is still possible to discern one's creation from another.
Oddly enough, just last night I was playing with a new technique idea that had inspired me. It is a painting technique that is used by another artist I admire, Audrey Kawaski. She pretty much exclusively paints on wood panels that she cuts and sands herself. She then applies a layer of GAC100 to form a clear barrier for her paint while still letting the wood grain show. So last night I did just that - I had a chunk of some really pretty wood that I coated with the GAC100. I then painted quite a fun portrait of a bearded man just by pulling him out of the wood grain with some oil pigments. (Promise to post a picture soon!)
Why am I talking about this? Because it is a prime example of being inspired by another artist, learning their technique and then expressing with your own voice. My bearded guy looks NOTHING like the work of Audrey Kawaski. (Too bad for him cuz I'm sure he'd be sexier if he did look more like an Audrey Kawaski...) I'm sure that with some practice and by looking directly off the screen I could make more of a copy - but then, why would I want to?
I understand that while artists are learning, we copy work that inspires us. What I don't get is where the neurons in someones brain then makes the connection that the exact copy is theirs. It's even worse when big corporations do this. Shame shame!
How can we as artists stop it? I think we already are. Just by forming the communities that we are forming. These online support groups. An artist's work gets stolen and how does she find out? By supporters and friends who notice and let her know. And the outcry of support that follows? Deafening. How could the copycats not hear? I hope they get the message.

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