Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Greener Grass?

Posted by Lora Hart
Artistic Advisor

Pablo Picasso is attributed with the saying "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal". And I suppose he was a man of his word, because his contemporaries allegedly used to hide their works in progress when he came to visit!

Beautiful shank design by
Jen of Quench Metalworks
The concept of copying another's work is anathema to most artists. And indeed, if a design is intentionally duplicated due to a lack of imagination, the allure of riding the coattails of someone else's hard earned success, misplaced admiration, or sheer laziness, then yes. Copying is not only not flattering, it is abusive and highly offensive. To say nothing of legally actionable, in some cases.

The back of Robin Ragsdale's piece
is as well designed as the front.

On the other hand, novice designers may utilize copying as a path towards learning a new technique or exploring a working style, In which case the idea should always be attributed to the originator and the copied work should remain in the collection of the copier. Never sell something "inspired by" someone else as your own.

A friend of mine doesn't like to look at other people's jewelry for fear that she would unintentionally absorb some design juju and create a similar object. I understand and admire that stance. But looking at new and historical work can be a necessary form of research. Especially if one uses what I call 'Mindful Observation'. When you find a work of art that resonates with you, take a moment to look at it with a critical eye and mentally dissect the whole to focus on the parts. Look at the materials the artist used, the construction of the piece, or the way it is hung. These are all elements that you can incorporate into your own work.

I've used this design before, but I love that
the catch seems to be a modified jump ring
or doubled up wire in Duffy Brown's version.
Notice how the pin tube is set slightly to the right
so the stem will be centered?
I often look for the detail shots that might show a solder seam or the shape of a ring shank. Those are features that I feel no shame in downright 'stealing'. In fact, I've appropriated a pin mechanism or two from my friends on Flickr. I've taught myself more than one new technique that way. Do I shock you?

Jewelry makers need to be resourceful. Whether it's making a tool to complete a specific task, or adapting the knowledge they possess to imagine a new finding. There's a right way to steal, and there's a wrong way. The first may win you accolades for your innovative methods and the other could very well impact your reputation as a maker. Where do you stand on this very fine line?


Holly Anne Black said...

Lora – I agree with you, there is a 'very fine line here', one which is a continuing ‘struggle’ for new jewelry artists like me. Whether self-taught, through tutorials, books, DVD's. etc.[again like me] or attending workshops, classes, etc., this points to this exact issue! We are introduced & taught skills, techniques in PMC, MC & various other manipulations of creating jewelry by others showing us projects & their work. Many times, we are even told to use a book as a 'workbook' & progress through the projects sequentially, i.e. Hadar Jacobson's groundbreaking works. She has communicated that it is best to work through her books in this manner. As we do so, naturally, we will have pieces that are similar, if not direct copies of what I understand to be lessons. What do we do with all the silver & finished products we create? Just hang them around our studios for fear of offending anyone?
In my personal sketchbook, as I make notes, if a piece is in anyway based on another's piece, I make a note "Inspired by Holly Black's 'Glorious Day Necklace', "SURE ANYDAY NOW MAGAZINE", 12/2020". This way if I do make the piece I have a reminder to look back to the reference, compare & make sure that I can give credit as being 'inspired' or 'based on the teachings of ____’. This is what I was taught eons ago as an Art Studio major in college.
Now, as I am beginning my own jewelry business I go about making, practicing, [improving] & planning on placing such pieces in my growing collection. I need to show my skills, examples of PMC jewelry, a technique, my style or jewelry. I was under the impression that this was the correct way to conduct myself in presenting my work.
Here’s another scenario: I’m NOT published anywhere but there have been countless times, I’ve seen a piece or an aspect of a piece that is IN MY HEAD or in my sketchbook prior to even seeing the other artist's work. Hasn’t that happened to you? What is that? It’s not being 'inspired' by someone else because I already had it AND they had it on their own, it's something else, I don't know what you call it. But I think its just part of art, music, writing, all creative endeavors.
Many of us are going to have some of the same 'ideas', 'visions', 'inspirations, etc. because we all live in the same environment. To a large extent aren’t we all influenced by many of the same forces: nature, music, media, fashion, people, culture, history?
Perhaps this is well articulated & you can see my point. You may agree or not but per usual, I thought I would 'throw in my 2 cents' for whatever its worth.
I look forward to hearing others comments on this subject and how it should be handled appropriately in regards to selling our art.
Holly A. Black
Blessings In Design Jewelry

Lora Hart said...

What a fabulous comment Holly! Thanks so much for taking the time to write such a thoughtful commentary.

I do think you have a great point. Working through the projects in a given book is a fabulous way to learn and practice technique. I do think there's a way to put one's own twist on tutorials or even class projects, but making exact duplicates of the design definitely teaches a plethora of skills that a novice might not otherwise have been exposed to.

If you have many such 'exemplars' in your stock, I think there's nothing wrong with selling them locally or on a site such as Etsy if they are specifically noted as a copy in the description and accompanied by a tag giving credit to the originator. Or offering them as holiday gifts to friends and family. Or donating them. Or wearing them yourself!

I guess what I'm most offended by are the people who make an item that is so obviously 'inspired' by a well known artist, and then submit it to a publication for print. I saw many such pieces when I juried the PMC Guild Annual in 2010.

I won't mention the people who copy intentionally and sell, some even using the artist's original photo of the work. Bad!!!

As for dreaming up a design and then seeing it in print made by someone else... OMG! the number of times that has happened! I think it's universal. There really is nothing new under the sun. Did you know that the sewing machine was invented at the same time in the States and in France? By men who had never so much as heard of each other?

You're absolutely right that as artists we are all influenced by similar styles, trends, historical references and online imagery. So much so that there are bound to be overlaps in design. But intentional copying is always wrong. As for learning technique through a specific project tutorial - the outcome of those items must be left to the morals and objectives of the student.

Lora Hart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lora Hart said...

I was just thinking... Perhaps pieces made in a class or from book and magazine tutorials could be included in special 'line' called 'Inspirations' (or something) and offered at a lower price. Artists should always charge for their labor, but perhaps the design time could be eliminated. So if you usually charge $25.00 per hour labor, the price for items in the 'Inspirations' line could be figured at $15.00 per hour.

If I were to do this, I'd be proud to tell a client that I was a self taught artist and that the specialty pieces were the result of my education, exploration with new techniques and were an homage to my muses.

Holly Anne Black said...

Lora – I’m glad you found value in my comments, thank you. I was exaggerating somewhat to make my point – I don’t actually have piles of pieces that are exact copies from tutorials! Like most artists as they learned their craft, I spent years giving away pieces until I was ‘good enough’ that people suggested that I begin selling my work. My personality is such that I can’t even cook a recipe straight out of a cookbook without adding a little of my own ‘twist’, this applies to most lessons & tutorials unless I have to copy a specific pattern. But you understood my point. Actually, I’m trying to adopt an attitude of pride in the fact that I am self-taught. Your suggestion of taking pieces that are very close to the actual tutorials is EXTREMELY interesting. I think I would like to ‘noodle that around’ in my head for a couple of reasons. I am starting my business & I no longer have the luxury of spending a long time on a piece, time is now related to money! We have invested in this adventure & I’m trying to get my ‘foot in the door’ with folks as an honest businesswoman with integrity as well as creativity. I don’t mind admitting that I’m new & still learning but I don’t want to project a lack of confidence or undervalue my work or time. If I do, when will I ever reach that point when I become an artist of status ‘good enough’ to charge more?

I recently participated in my first craft fair which was poorly attended; it was their first event & the weather wasn’t great. But I learned a lot! I had several people interested in my work & “Make Your Own Jewelry Parties” are new to this area. I was thinking about giving a ‘slightly discounted price’ or ‘special package’ for a family considering giving their teen daughter a birthday party to help ‘seal the deal’, as well as help me practice my teaching & get my name out in my community. Hopefully a ‘win – win’ for everyone! My phrasing will need to be such that they feel that I am doing them a favor the they are doing me so I don’t devalue myself or show a lack of confidence – quick study, aren’t I?

At the fair as I was demonstrating many of my pieces, explaining how they were made, and how easy it is for them to make their own. And being the tactile creatures we are, it was very gratifying seeing the reactions of folks as they would pick up individual PMC & metal clay forms, enameled beads, leaves & flowers that I had preserved in silver, etc. It pleased me to see how intrigued people were to discover that a copper twig was hand carved by me and not molded. I very honestly admitted that I was at a different point in the ‘learning curve’ with things like [non-silver] Metal Clays than the Silver PMC which is the ‘first line offering’ of my business. I will continue to add in more as I improve in those areas.

I really like your idea! Do you mind if I play with it and possibly put it into play? At this time, I think I could accomplish more while still working on ‘saleable’ pieces if I tried to integrate your idea into my company. As many of you can understand, being a wife & working mother of 3 teens trying to start a home business, time is almost as valuable money! I need as much time in profitable activities as possible yet I want to continue to teach myself new skills, working my tutorials, creating ‘inspired learning pieces’ and expanding my repertoire of skills. Your idea may provide another ‘tool’ in accomplishing these goals. Thank you for your creativity, insight & wisdom, Ms. Lora Hart!

Sarah Triton said...

Hi Miss Lora....have I told you lately what a great writer you are? That being said, I would like to say that I would NEVER sell something I make in another's workshop, even if it isn't the instructor's design, nor would I approve of someone who would. If it's not my personal taste, I would sell it to a refinery, but never to another,as my work.

In the spirit of originals, I wonder, however, if that technique has been published, do we also need to ask those instructors if we might teach their techniques to others, giving them full credit, of course? Or just credit them and footnote the publication in our resources list? Just thinking...what say you?

Gail said...


I just posted “Steal like an Artist” a few days ago on my blog. And yes the video references Picasso. The gist is that nothing is original. Art is a distillation of everything that the artist is exposed to and inspired by. If you find something that lights your soul on fire….take it and run with it. Make it over and over, refine it, riff on it…make it until it is out of your system and then move on to the next inspiration. For me, this way of working has helped to find my voice.

In Paris in the early 1900’s, Picasso and his peers fed off each other. They copied, challenged and pushed each other to be better than any of them could have been alone. They worked together…willingly or not….to create artistic movements. Cubism wasn’t created in a vacuum….Picasso and Braque were influenced by the simple lines of tribal art. They in turn influenced other artists who took cubism to higher levels.

Simultaneous invention is a common place occurrence. An article in the New Yorker (“In the Air”, May 2008) documents simultaneous inventions. Major inventions and discoveries like calculus, evolution, fractions, logarithms, sunspots. These simulteanous inventions occurred at a time when mass communication was non-existent. Today we are bombarded most of our waking day with information, images, and sounds. Some people have a hard time putting down their electronic devices to have a conversation with a real person. I don’t have to travel to Africa or go to the local museum to study tribal art. I can do it from the comfort of my living room on my computer. So it’s not surprising to me that artists come up with similar designs and techniques. You don’t need to look at other artists work for this to happen. You just need similar aesthetics and be exposed to some of the same influences.

On a final note, the best teachers will tell you to take their designs, make them, and sell them to your heart’s content. In the act of teaching, they are transferring ownership to you. These same teachers delight in their students successes. These are the teachers you want to seek out and learn from. They are the true artists.

Sarah Triton said...

Gail, I agree with the SPIRIT of your statement about the best teachers,and I think I've taken the few specialty techniques I've been able to afford from the undisputed best, but if they gave the class their blessings to go out and teach their specialties, I missed it! So to avoid conflict or misunderstanding, I will ask!

All the best,

Gail said...

Hey...Sarah. I was talking about teachers giving their blessing about making and selling the projects they are teaching. I don't know any teacher that allows someone else to teach a class they are actively teaching. I do know of one who gives permission to teach classes she no longer wants to do.

Holly Anne Black said...

Lora - I'm so glad you sparked such a lively discussion. I have some more thoughts I'd like to share but I'm just way too busy to add them in today. [Must be disciplined & stay on task!] Sarah, would you REALLY send your pieces to a refinery rather than share them or display them? The differing opinions in this discussion are also including different concepts of the 'use' of pieces based on or 'inspired' by teachings of others. I would LOVE to hear from some teachers, writers of books & tutorials, etc. & get their perspectives! I will write more later but irregardless of the sales of said work, I will definitely keep ALL pieces for my growing body of works, as display & part of my portfolio. I will continue as I have always, to make notes as to the contributions of other artists as I feel is appropriate. Keep up the dialogue because I can't wait to jump back in!

Gail said...

I keep my class pieces and wear them. Since I'm more focused on learning the technique rather than a pretty finished piece...some of them are only lovable by me :). I've always thought it would be interesting to get a groupbof diverse people together to discuss topics like this. It's good to hear other thoughts...opens up the eyes and the mind.

Souther said...

Wow what a lively discussion. My take on this is that techniques are not individually owned but the manner in which techniques are used and combined can be. For example sewing a seam is done pretty much the same way either by hand of machine it is the manner in how the fabric is cut that make the design. This is an oversimplification of the concept but you get my point. in jewelry making weather shaping MC stringing beads or weaving there are only so many techniques. It is how you use the techniques that make the artist. When I teach I try to teach projects that teach techniques not the art itself - that comes from within.

Out on a Bead

Holly Anne Black said...

Souther - Your sewing analogy is a very good one! It is a lot closer to one of the essential points I was trying to make. When you are first taught to sew [unless by your grandmother like myself] I assume you are taught basic concepts such as sewing seams, inserting zippers, setting sleeves, etc. Then you are given extra tips & the ways that YOUR teacher might have for making a collar lay down more nicely, or to cut out a pattern from certain directions, you get my point. Some of these are 'universal' basics, some are points that your teacher may have 'discovered' through years of experience, practice or perhaps just artistic inspiration. Its a very gray area!
Either way, you take all this information, assimilate it in your mind & imagination, go home and begin to 'sew' or make jewelry or whatever your craft may be. As your proficiency & confidence increases, you're no longer just 'sewing from a pattern' and you are doing your own thing. At that point your work is a compilation of so many different influences. At the end of the day it is a distillation of all the above and you have created something of your very own.

I'm sure you've had this experience: you look at pieces in a shop or on a forum gallery & many times, see immediately many of the influences and sometimes even a project that may have had a very strong influence on that artist. Do you call them up and ask them if their piece is based on Miss 'Amazing Metal Clay Artist's' piece in Sept's issue of Metal Clay Magazine?

I've also noticed that when very popular books are published, many times, many people are very excitedly learning and employing these new techniques. [Boy, I'm really going out on a limb now!] Personally, I don't have a problem with this to an extent. For one thing, its human nature! We are metal clay/jewelry artists, hungry to learn new skills & techniques!!! Of course we want to share our experiments & variations with our comrades and peers for feedback, validation, etc. Now what the individual artists do with their pieces from there IS THE ISSUE.
But this is like many things related to our personal character - one must decide what is right & honorable' even when no one may know what we are doing. If you feel that a piece should carry a notation of some sort to an artist, we should do so.

I'm a self taught jewelry artist and haven't taken any classes, just books, tutorials, etc. [The PMC Conference is in Kentucky, June 2012!!!] If I were to attend a class and any pieces were remotely decent, I would proudly wear them! If asked to sell such a piece, I would explain that its part of my personal collection & not for sale. I would not have any ethical problems with including a picture of it in my portfolio of work to show my skills. I would never destroy them! I have the first pieces of the only classes I attended at Penland School of Art in 1980; they are some of my most cherished possessions!

As I took what I learned in a class [or book, tutorial, etc.] and processed it and added the knowledge in with the rest of the things swimming around in this brain of mine, I would hope that these skills would become less & less like the specific project learned. It then becomes part of whole creative and artistic 'brain space' of Holly Black, for better or worse!

I'm still hoping some teachers will have a moment to comment. Would they like for us to send them pictures of pieces if they are based in anyway on their teachings, and ask for their release for show and/or sale? Or do they basically trust our integrity to make the appropriate distinctions and act accordingly?

Oh, well as with most things in this new world I have entered, I'm learning all the time!