Copy or Plagiarism……fine line

Recently reading a publication online, one article caught my eye.  The winners of a recent competition were posted….1st place winner was one of those ‘really’ moments.  My first thought, was a question, is that my painting?  A closer look revealed  an identical copy from my web site with an unfamiliar signature.  Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! as Gomer would say…those of you to young to know who Gomer was….check out Mayberry, U.S.A.  Some of you reading this can relate… a deer in the headlights moment.  It’s a flash back to the reference photo and the last brush stroke that  finished the painting.  The time of completion is mentally documented with your signature. The time is a prerequisite for painters because the most frequent ask questions from the viewing public ‘how long did it take you to paint that?’   Composing an acceptable piece of work doesn’t always come easy for most of us. Drawing, adjusting shapes, choosing colors, right technique are just a few major decisions in producing a work you would be proud to show your worst critic.  Unfortunately, this is not my first rodeo or experience with this issue.  How about recognizing your work on a wall knowing you didn’t enter this show, because you’er the judge. I was tempted at this particular event to give myself,  Best of Show. Browsing through a gallery was another headlight experience.  A class work copy framed hanging with a familiar signature priced to sell.  Thoughts go through my head ….contact the artist for a  commission ‘ I want one just like this one in a different color…like red to match my sofa.’  Funny isn’t it how our labored efforts jump off those walls…kind of like recognizing your kid on the playground.    Or another time as a judge,  awarding ribbons and prize money to find out latter the winner or winners paintings were not original.  Whoops!!!  Are those choices to copy made from ignorance, lack of ability or just plain lazy???  There isn’t enough time or resources to keep check of every piece of art work out in cyberspace but integrity and accountability of the artist is monumental.
In defense of copy work, picking up a brush for the first time can be overwhelming. Do I have the right paint, paper, am I the only beginner in this class and what is a scraper…do I have one?  Just choosing the right brush for some can be a month long endeavor.  I’m not opposed for beginners to copy work if the intention is learning techniques, color, value or finding their style.  But hey! Keep those copies under the bed with those dogs we all accumulate because they come from the sweat of  someone else.  Let’s put this scenario in the literary field….copy your favorite book word for word, change the names and location add a few scribbles of your own…..sign your name and send it to a publisher.  I am certain it would not make it to the best sellers list. Changing a few colors or lines doesn’t make it your painting……

When painters pass from beginner to the next level….it is time to draw from their own imagination/sketches/photographs whatever references you choose for composition.  If composition is difficult,  study others works, books, search for workshops or classes that focus on composition.  Save yourself the embarrassment of plagiarism when confronted by the original artist, judge, organization or gallery. Bottom line….if you have painted long enough to know what a scrapper is and what it’s used for it’s time you produce from your own material.
Happy Painting….

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed.   C.S. Lewis

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