Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I won’t lie, I’ve gotten fairly emotional about this situation, and I regret my hasty, relatively immature post before this. I’m still fairly emotional, but Janey raises some interesting points. She’s a faster typer than I am, so this post is coming out after she said she would drop it, but after this is posted, I too will drop it. I think we’ve agreed to disagree, but I would like to express my point of view, just as she had a chance to express hers.

After my comment on her blog, Janey posted this response:
"I've been using photos I've found on line in Flickr and on websites for inspiration for many of my drawings. Is that "copying"? Is it an infringement of copyright? I've thought about this [a lot]. I've had several of my drawings copied and used on websites and blogs without my permission and that's wrong. I've had my drawings manipulated and changed and that's wrong. Other people have used my work for inspiration and drawn them "ala [Janey]". And that's ok by me and actually I find it very, very flattering.

I think that all artists copy from other artists at some point usually early in their development. It's a way of learning. The intent is not to duplicate the original. My drawings are anything but realistic. I have no interest in it or talent really for making the drawing look like the photo. I'm using the poses as inspiration. And each drawing is linked to the original. The photos I've used as inspiration belong to very talented artists. Their work as influenced me immensely. Samantha Wolov is one of those artists."

I'm in no position to comment how an artist should learn their craft; it's completely subjective. Yes, artists do learn from other artists. I can’t begin to imagine how much research I did trying to educate myself as to what had been done already, and how it had been done. But that’s precisely the point--I wanted to see what already existed to I could shape my own ideas and technique; I did it so I could be different. I never tried to recreate a scene someone else had captured. I do not think that simply copying another artist’s work is, in any way, a form of education. All Janey has proven is that she is skilled with markers/watercolors (I can’t tell which). The vision, perspective, content, and feeling in those images are not hers, they’re mine, and I’m highly offended that there is even a question over that.

If you look at Janey’s drawings, and you look at my original photographs, there is a clear connection between the two. I think my work was outright copied, plain and simple. Janey obviously thinks differently.

I’m not angry, or at least not as much as some might be in this situation. I do understand where Janey is coming from. Yes, we all need to start somewhere, and I commend her for attempting to teach herself. But there are so many other methods she could use. She could sign up for a one-day nude photography workshop just to take some snapshots. She could take self-portraits. She could ask friends (that’s all I did). If she is going to “translate” a photograph into her own drawing style anyway, then she doesn’t need a perfect photograph. But it should be HER photograph.

Would I like the pictures removed from the site? Yes. Would I like the originals? Yes. Am I sorry this had to happen? Yes. But legally, what does this mean? If she “copied” my original photos, which are protected by a copyright, but they’ve been translated by her hands into being “original works” in themselves, are they also protected? What does this mean for artists like Sherrie Levine? I don’t think there’s a connection between Janey and Levine, as I suspect Levine’s work was social commentary and process-based, rather than Janey’s product-based work, but Levine is still highly relevant here. Is developing one’s own artistic or creative identity from another artist “copying?” Do all artists inadvertently copy each other? Does originality still exist?

I’m not upset with Janey, and I would certainly hope that this situation doesn’t balloon into something more than two artists with a disagreement. But I need to balance feeling highly violated and trying to objectively look at the work of another emerging artist, an individual to whom I should be somewhat sympathetic.

If you have an opinion about the theory of originality and artistic education, I’d love to hear it. But I’m not interested in hearing about who is “right” or “wrong”, and I will promptly delete any comment that says so.


Blogger -J. said...

In the (very few) art classes I've taken, a routine assignment is to copy a work of another artist or to do a drawing/painting in another artist's signature "style". While it might be inappropriate to present those excercises for public consumption, I certainly think it's common/routine - look at all the art students madly sketching away in any given museum.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous marcus said...

I appreciate your photos very much, but I'm sad that you felt so violated by Janey's interpretation of them.

No one can tell you how to feel about a re-use of your imagery, so it's disingenuous to suggest that you be flattered as many people would say in the old 'imitation is flattery' line.

I would suggest however that there is a close connection in almost all art forms to their influences. Janey was quite honest about the source of her images. That alone strikes me in a very positive way.

In any case, and not that you would care, but your extreme response for a few moments early today caused me to stupidly consider whether to continue reading your blog or not. In retrospect that was not a well-thought reaction, but it's an ethical issue for me, and in my mind its far more complex and nuanced than you've laid out. In the very least, artists who can't handle being reinterpreted tend to be off-putting.

(For the record, I don't know Janey, and never saw her blog before your posting.)

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Tracy Lee said...

Times like these is when being married to a lawyer comes in mighty handy. I'll give you all the legal mumbo jumbo tomorrow, you won't feel so bad then.

I have had painters use my photos for a basis of one of their work - they have asked permission first if they could use it and then sent me a copy of the completed piece. Sometimes it is an exact copy just created in paint and sometimes it is a new work inspired by mine. But the ket to me is that they asked me first if I minded and could they have permission.

12:26 AM  
Blogger jenn said...

I’m not an artist. If you gave me a photo and told me to copy it, you’d end up with…well I thought I was going to have something funny/witty to say but basically just know that it would totally suck. So if you can copy someone’s photo or their painting and it looks good/similar to the original? I think it’s impressive, there’s a chance that you have some kind of artistic talent. And, shockingly, I’m no expert at teaching art either, so maybe copying other art or drawing something exactly the same as someone else has already done really is an effective way to learn. But she didn’t present the pictures as “some practice drawings that I’m doing and were drawn directly from photos I saw on Sam’s website” (and am I wrong to assume that if she was just copying them for her own gratification/ “practice” and not posting them on the internet and claiming it as her art, you’d be ok with it?) . And trying to sell them?!?! Probably no legal conflict, but just really sketch (dude, I intended that pun, I’ll admit it).

I think that my big problem here is the use of the word “inspiration”. So I’ve consulted The Oracle (some random online dictionary) and here is the gist: “stimulus to do creative work”, “the quality of being stimulated to creative thought or activity, or the manifestation of this”, “something that stimulates the human mind to creative thought or to the making of art”. Creative is the watchword here. Yeah, you could say that creativity is subjective and blah blah blah, but if you want the opinion of an outsider? Eh, not creative.

Maybe I’m over-symplifying this, and I don’t want to upset any of the artsy crowd (I’m terrifically intimidated by them, fyi, and therefore I rarely comment on your blog; I’m scared that they’ll all turn on me and I’ll be forced to hang out with the math/science folks and I can barely count, so it would be a DISASTER). I’m glad the pictures are down, regardless of the legality/tacky/ethical factors of it. If it upsets/bothers you on an artistic level, than I think your opinion is valid and should be respected regardless of what is considered right/wrong.

1:32 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

"The vision, perspective, content, and feeling in those images are not hers"

She appears to be using your photos as essentially mute source material, the same way you might use the model from a figure drawing. In the case of a figure drawing, the arranger of seats could take credit for Janey's "perspective", the person who organized the event could similarly take credit for the content (i.e. the model himself), and the model could grab credit for any feelings he happened to be showing. Vision, for what it's worth, could be diffused among the three, and Janey would wind up empty-handed at the end of the day.

The difference is that in any life drawing, Janey would have paid all the people involved enough that they're too busy counting bills to think about the nature of artistic ownership. Meanwhile, Janey doesn't have to think about the extent to which her right to put pen to paper can be circumscribed beyond the obvious prohibitions against forgery.

Fair Use doesn't even bat an eyelash.

2:01 PM  

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