July 11, 2006

Copy Cats.

I recently got a message in my guestbook that I thought warranted some discussion. It comes from “May”.

I am currently dealing with disappointing reality that a friend of mine has been copying my artwork. I appreciate your stance on the subject, and hope to find a way to make myself clear to others on what is acceptable and what is not, when it comes to enjoying my artwork.
Well, this is an important issue, and there are a few things to consider here.

First of all, when people start getting an interest in art, copying images is very common. It’s a step in one’s artistic development, and it helps to improve hand-eye coordination and visual acuity. That said, some people never grow out of that and don’t learn that copying artwork is only a step. Copying artwork is fine as something to use as a form of training, but it’s definitely not cool to show that copied artwork off as if it’s a finished piece, especially if they are trying to pass off that artwork as their own without giving credit to the original artist. I was just looking on deviantART a minute ago and saw a bunch of pencil drawings that were copied exactly from artwork that I had seen before. What is the point of that? Why would somebody want to show that off? You can copy a picture that someone else already drew… so what? Isn’t that effort better placed in drawing something that no one else has drawn before? Well, I think so!

There are other forms of copying that are also sticky subjects. There is swiping, where an artist will steal a pose or composition from another drawing and apply it exactly like it was but with different characters. This is generally a bad idea. There are also situations were someone will take another artist’s work and change it slightly so they can claim it as their own. This is also a not very good, and is a particularly scummy thing to do without giving credit. But it’s ok to take inspiration from other artists’ work, and it’s not cheating to use reference images as long as they’re only used for reference. Sometimes there is a fine line between being inspired and outright copying. An artist should have the better judgment to know if they are crossing that line.

The thing is that if someone copies a piece of art, it obviously means that they like it. That can include professional images as well as artwork done by people they know. So, you could look at it from a flattering perspective too. It means you have a fan. I can remember several occasions when I was in grade school where I would draw something really creative in class, only to have a significant portion of the other students doing the exactly the same thing once word got out. It’s pretty annoying, but it also means you’re doing something right. Ultimately, however, you have to be protective of your own work. When one person gets away with copying your work, then suddenly it’s ok for anybody to copy anyone else’s work. It sets a bad precedent and pretty much says that your artwork is a commodity without much value. Certainly I think that friends should understand that is not what you want.

Unfortunately, this is part of the world of being an artist. While everybody else might admire your talent, think all seem to think that being an artist is real easy and it’s all fun and games. They don’t really know what it takes. Often times it feels like we are part of a world that seeks only to take advantage of us and not give us our due. It’s a hard way to live, especially when you’re just starting out and have big goals. That’s why I have recently come to understand that, since this part of life can be so difficult, it’s best to try to keep the other side of life as simple and as positive as possible. The way we handle our relationships with friends and people we know is a big part of that.

I take this issue pretty seriously since I was once accused of copying and being unoriginal based on the content of my website. The guy was a rude, ignorant jackass who hated anime and thought that I copied and just drew the same things over and over again because I have an anime style, so obviously I didn’t think much of anything he had to say, but still. I don’t see where he could have gotten off with accusing me like that since I take a great deal of pride in being original. But that’s just another example of the nonsense artists have to deal with from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

To specifically address May’s problem, I don’t think that your friend copying your work is a big deal as long as no one else sees it. Maybe it will help to inspire your friend to become a better artist, and that would be a very good thing. But when it really comes down to it, an artist shouldn’t have to rely on other people’s work or something to copy from or anything else but their wits and their hands to create something good. It’s got to come from within, and copying just isn’t going to make that happen.

I hope that helps.



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