10 August 2010

Artistic Influence

"But perhaps without influence there might be little growth. Like natural selection in the evolution of species, artistic influence is a semi-voluntary device that ensures art never stands still. Further, in a state of flux, if not progress, derivation from others can lead to derivation from the self."
~Robert Genn, Twice Weekly Painter's Keys letters

{Warning! This is a long one. Grab a cup and read on...}
{UPDATE: Apparently, I had started this post on 7/2 so when I hit publish it went back to that date! I have republished it so that others may see and comment if they like. If you have already commented, my apologies!}

This quote came from the Painter's Keys letters from artist Robert Genn. I am not a painter {although I have painted, rather poorly I might add} but I like the correlations that he makes and it causes me to pause and reflect on how his sage advice can apply to any art, no matter the medium. Go there and read a few or sign up for some inspiration to come to your inbox twice a week.

There is always a lot of debate about copy-cats and imitation in art. I know other artists of all media, including jewelry, who have been stung by blatant copycat-ism. I pity those that set about to copy a design directly, and especially if they pass it off as one of their own without any proper credit given. I pity them because they lack confidence. I believe that we have each been called by a higher power to be a creator, not a clone-er. I realize that my art has not been accessible to the world long enough to be treated in this way {I also realize, sadly, that it is but a matter of time before it will happen to me}. There will always be imitators biting at your heels, but that is where I think it helps to have a healthy expectation that your art will never be caught standing still.

"Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there." ~Will Rogers

Henri Toulouse-Latrec's Rousse, La Toilette (Redhead Bathing)
The picture above is by Henri Toulouse-Latrec entitled 'Redhead Bathing.' The painting shows an anonymous woman who was likely posing in her brothel. The picture shows a tenderness in the attention to the small of her back and her flaming red locks. With her face obscured the viewer can imagine her to be anyone. But it is also an imitation of the style of Toulouse-Latrec's much older idol, Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas, Woman Wiping Her Feet

Degas did similar subjects. His pastel renderings of faceless women catching them in such an intimate moment as they entered their bath, or climbed into bed were just as tender, if more roughly finished. It is quite obvious that Toulouse-Latrec was imitative of his older Master.

But would you say that Toulouse-Latrec was copying his Master?
Or was he merely influenced by this work,
creating something that is truly his own,
propelling his own art forward?

"A great part of art consists in imitation.
For the whole conduct of life is based on this:
that what we admire in others we want to do ourselves."


I get a lot of publications. I devour each new one, usually keeping back issues. First I love to look quickly at the pictures. Then I return to linger on those that were created by my friends especially. {It is like I am having coffee with a friend.} I like the opportunity to see new techniques, discover new art beads, and learn a thing or two.

I greatly admire all the people whom I see in the pages of these publications, and having been in them myself, I am aware of how challenging it is to do. Often they show me avenues that I have not thought to explore myself. I may not have had the courage to use fiber and fabric and ribbon in my work had I not seen it first in the pages of a magazine. Or the fact that I had never really tried my hand at wire as anything more than a point of connectivity but rather a twisted and twirled integral design element. Not until I saw it in a book by Kerry Bogert. My publications are like a map that show the way. But how I get there, what route I travel is mine alone.

So as I was concocting all the pieces for my gallery exhibit {opening this Friday!} I had these publications and other books nearby for reinforcements. It was like having all my friends in the room to advise me on the direction for each new piece {I may have even had whole conversations with each of you, very late at night. I won't tell you if you talked back ;-}. But even though I have them around me, always studying the construction and materials and resources, I really feel very strongly in making it my own rather than knocking off a copy of something that I see. It is a point of departure.

I am a huge fan of shows like Top Chef and Project Runway {the only TV that I actually take the time to watch}. What I like best about these shows is first that they find immensely talented people and second that they are able to make something out of nothing, completely their point of view, with limited time and resources. They can change elements - like spices - or add details - like military epaulets - and their end-product becomes completely different, unique, one-of-a-kind. When I set out to design a piece of jewelry I might start from the same set of ingredients that everyone else has, but ultimately it is about how I choose to put it all together that sets it apart {I am waiting for a show called 'America's Next Top Jewelry Designer' - I am so going to TiVo that one!}.

Can you imagine anyone who actually sits down with their books or magazines and copies the design piece by piece? I am not naive enough to think that this doesn't ever happen, I am just incredulous that it could. I would think that it would be harder to copy someone else verbatim than just riffing on it and making it your own.
I don't use these printed resources as you would a recipe. If I am inspired by what I see in those pages, it is likely one small portion, like the way a clasp can be front and center or how to use a particular material that I am uncertain about. It inspires me to try something new, whether that is a palette or a material or technique. It is something that I struggle with when a publication wants completely detailed step-by-step instructions from me. When I myself get published I know that I am walking a fine line between inspiring someone to copy me and influencing them to come up with a derivative.

"Do something wonderful, people may imitate it." ~Albert Schweitzer

Case in point.... page 26 of Beads 2010 magazine has the most amazing necklace on it. I was not surprised to see my friend Jess Italia-Lincoln gracing that page with the delicious caramel colored brass pieces and the lush glass beads. I am a huge fan of Jess and her inimitable style {not to mention that I am smitten with all things Vintaj}. I was influenced by the balanced asymmetry of 'Borosilicate Branches' {which is challenging to do well, and Jess certainly succeeded}. I set about to translate that element - balanced asymmetry - into my own work of wearable art for my exhibit. I call this one 'Free Spirit' in honor of the painting that inspired it.

Free Spirit
influenced by the style of Jess Italia-Lincoln
inspired by the
Ann Singsaas watercolor 'Red Ponies, Red Desert'
featuring custom polymer clay beads by Christine Damm of Stories They Tell

So tell me what you think...did I succeed in creating a derivative work, influenced by Jess' style but reflecting my own flair?

"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."
~ Herman Melville

Inspiration and influence are uniquely connected.

There are inspiring things to be found around us all the time. We can't help but be influenced by images that we see that we either stow away willingly or those that become part of our subconscious. Ultimately, it is what we do with this storehouse of inspiration and how we channel that influence into our own styles that allow us to truly succeed in moving our art forward in a derivation of self.

In my own way, I have created 78 derivative pieces of art inspired and influenced by the artists and the bead artisans who collaborated with me.

And in this way I am propelling my art forward to new heights.

Tell me what you think.
Do you believe that there is anything completely original in this world?
Or are we all merely imitating all that is around us?
How do you use the images that you see, the recipes, the instructions in your own derivations?
In what ways are you ensuring that you are always moving forward, not standing still?

Do tell!

Enjoy the day!


Unknown said...

Wow such thoughts! Yes if you set out to copy a design to the tee, they I don't feel you can truly express yourself! I have been blogging for only a short while but the inspirations I have received from all of the blogs I follow is endless! I love your necklace as much as Jess's! Each is individual and unique even if one is "original". I am not sure but I do think that its better to not be able to have the exact ingredients to replicate, where's the fun in that? Being very budget restricted I think it's more fun to improvise!
Hugs Always

Alice said...

When I first started making jewelry, I would, admittedly, work a piece exactly as the instructions said just to get a handle on the process. Once done, I would tear it apart and work it my way, adding my own take on it.

I believe people who copy not only lack confidence, but also lack the much-needed gene of individual creativity. Maybe they go hand in hand, the preverbial catch 22.

I think your Free Spirit piece is lovely, and does not scream 'copy cat' from Jess' piece. I love that you were able to pull together bits and pieces from Jess and Anne's creations and make a truely unique piece.

Regina said...

What a thought provoking post! I too love to look at magazines and designs and use them to inspire me. Helps me think outside my box! But I take off for there and work in my style. I see your point with the two necklaces and I would truly say that you were inspired by Jess's design. I think that the idea of publishing is to inspire others. Love both the necklaces.

Pretty Things said...

Very pretty, and a lovely interpretation!

Mellisa said...

Fantastic, thoughtful post and beautiful necklaces (they both are unique). I don't think there really is much new out there as far as art goes...inspiration comes from sources, not out of thin air...even if the person doesn't recall the source of the idea they were exposed to it somewhere and it registered...

I struggle with the feeling of "hey that looks like mine!" occasionally but then I remind myself that my inspiration comes from textiles, architecture, nature and so on...unfortunately I don't have the market on those inspiration sources...

The funny thing is that when I see something similar to my work my first thought is that I need to stop making the item and come up with something new lest others think that I'm the secondary creator!

I used to make a lot of charms, etc from vintage button molds I had made until I saw a couple others using the same buttons...can't accuse anyone of copying me if they can make a mold of the same thing, now can I? Glaze colors/formulas aren't proprietary (although my heart sank a little today when I saw someone using the same color names for a couple glaze shades that are similar to ones I use).

Definitely a hot button topic but presented well :)

Jess Italia Lincoln said...

Erin, thanks for the shout out, I’m so honored that my work inspires you! Your necklace is SO gorgeous! Also, thanks for sharing your opinion with everyone about the boundaries of copying ones work, but how ‘Artistic Influence' can lead to amazing work. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject - Very well said, I completely agree with you and sometimes seek inspiration from publications to incorporate into my designs as well. With that being said, that is way I share my jewelry in magazines - to Inspire others; whether it be a specific technique, color combination, assortment of materials, etc... Thanks again for all your wonderful compliments - you made my day :)

lunedreams said...

That is a stunning, unforgettable piece (yours I mean--but Jess' too). The "engineering" is similar to Jess', but the feel is utterly unique. The combination of finishes and textures is just luscious! (I wish I could think like that). Human beings have been creating art, and jewelry, for literally millennia--at this point it's nearly impossible to be completely new. There's only so many ways to make a necklace, and after 10,000 years of human history we're bound to repeat those configurations. I think what you've done with that piece is an illustration of what "inspired by" means--you can see the influence, and yet it is still original. gorgeous, bravo.

Melinda said...

Fabulous post!!! Beautiful work.... inspiration overflows here. This has fast become one of my favorite places to visit! Thank you also for introducing me to all these other artists works and how they inspire you. I love to see the journey (and the journey is so beautiful with you) and not just end result!

Jenners said...

I do think there is a huge difference between imitation and inspiration ... and the artists needs to know the difference. There probably aren't many new ideas but there are new ways of looking at the same ideas and giving it your own twist, which is what I think you do so very well.

DVArtist said...

I can't tell you how wonderful your post is. Getting to a touchy point with out being political or angry about it. I have been teaching and writing instructional articles on beading and other arts since the early 1980s. I see my teachings bead for bead in places like etsy, and artfire, and yes ebay. What should I do? Write these people and tell them "shame on you" hey I don't have time for that. I feel the same as you. These people are lack luster souls that "need" to be acknowledged in some way. This is how they do it. When comes down to the end it will all be straightened out and the copy cats will be exposed. In the mean time I create from my heart and from the world around me and I hope that I can inspire true artists to create in the same way. As you did with your lovely necklace. Again thanks so much for this post. It is inspiring!!!! :)
P.S. I too love Project Runway and Top Chef!

As posted on my blog and my letters.
Honor and Integrity in art in life.

N Valentine Studio said...

This comes up over and over again in all communities but does seem to come up more in the jewelry world. This is a great thought provoking post!

Cindy said...

Another thought-provoking and well written post, Erin! I think this one stikes a chord with many of us. Both yours and Jess' necklaces are so beautiful.
Hope you had a Happy Birthday!!!

stregata said...

Fantastic post, Erin! A topic that does keep coming up. Like your thoughts.
Seems I missed your birthday - sending you all best wishes from my corner of the world, love, laughter and inspiration!
And more best wishes for the opening of your exhibit on Friday!!! It will be fantastic!

Belinda Saville said...

What a fantastic and thought-provoking post...I really like the way you've handled this very touchy subject with diplomacy and intelligence. It is a great read!

An artist will often seek to emulate the work of their peers in the early stages of learning and developing their art, and during their process of finding their own artistic 'voice'. More often than not, it is not an exact copy, but similarities are obvious nonetheless. This is not such a bad thing, but attribution must always be given.

In this world of jewellery, I find it most upsetting when designers do not give the source of their inspiration (as you have done with Jess' beautiful necklace). Why is it so hard to give recognition? Why not tell the world who inspired you to create something, and in turn give them the opportunity to be inspired also? It's not just about propelling yourself forward as an artist, it's about ensuring the continuity of the art as a whole.

How do I ensure that I am always moving forward as an artist? I learn new skills :-) Whether it be a new beadweaving stitch, a new medium (wirework, metalwork), or a new challenge...I'm always pushing the envelope. Oh, and I get bored easily too LOL

Thanks for great post and I look forward to visiting your wonderful blog often!

Belinda :-)

Stories They Tell said...

This is an epic post, Erin and I did sip my cuppa as I read it. Here's what I think: copying someone else's design--even copying elements verbatim--to sell or send to a magazine is blatantly wrong; copying it for yourself, if you are exercising your creativity in the only way possible, will put you on a path to grow in confidence and an awakening of your own talents. It's an active act, better than sitting and doing nothing. I think we all remember coloring in a coloring book. All we were doing was adding color to someone else's pictures but that was an important first step. (Kudos to those who instinctively colored outside the lines!)I have recently started going back to re-do some pieces that I submitted, as my design sense in jewelry has matured and my skill level in polymer has increased. So I am in some sense, reinterpreting myself. As for being derivative, it is fiction that we ever come up with something entirely new, since nature was-- and still is-- our first inspiration. Nothing is created from nothing except maybe Creation, with a capital "C". And I don't think any of us are on THAT level yet! Thanks for a truly thought-provoking post and the info on Robert Genn.

Gardanne said...

Great post Erin, I came here directly from Kelley's post. I connected with so much you said, for the short 4 years I have been in the jewelry and lampwork world there has always been conversations about copying. When I see blatant copying, especially of my friends work, it makes me angry, but it also makes me nervous. By nervous I mean, that if I admire other artists work, will I be consciously and subconsciously influenced too much. Where does inspiration end and copying begin, I really do believe everyone has a different definition.
Thank you for helping me feel a little more comfortable looking at other artists work, if Toulouse -Latrec can be inspired so can I.

Unknown said...

This is a great post Erin all very well said.
I was looking at your jewellery today and you have such a beautiful elegant touch!

Barbara Bechtel said...

Well said Erin! Thank you for this awesome post!


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