Here we go again. Every year it’s the same story.
It’s certainly a proud moment when a student completes an assigned work or an amateur puts the finishing touches on a copy or borrowed composition. A teacher or, in my case, a curator, can be open to showcasing this pride to a wider audience in a show-and-tell or a gallery display as encouragement, provided the source material, whether a teacher who assigned or corrected the work or its creator, is identified.
However, it is a difficult line to walk between encouraging people’s artistic creativity and feeding the illusions they develop with the completion of a few artworks, especially paintings. Putting amateur art objects out for public view has a terrible side effect: it helps foster the illusion that their creators are now ‘artists’. That is wonderful when their reaction is to hunker down and get serious with their artistic practice. Unfortunately, too often, all it does is lead them to expect to sell the work and churn out more of the same, except instead of relying on teachers they fish the internet for images and ideas.
In an episode of the Original Star Trek series, a female character announces to imprisoned Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock that she has composed a sonnet. When she recites it for their edification, Spock, surprised, points out that it’s a Shakespeare sonnet, written centuries before. The indignant woman responds, to paraphrase, “That didn’t stop me from re-writing it yesterday”. Of all the inspirations people have drawn from that wonderful television show, this one may be the only unfortunate one: the woman is a patient in an insane asylum. Alas, the Internet is now haunted by people who can defend their appropriation (close associate to plagiarism and theft, often ingenuously identified as ’inspiration’t with the same indignant claim.
Copying is a wonderful experimentation tool; classes are great places for people to get exposed to and assigned ideas, be shown and share techniques, have their mistakes critiqued and maybe corrected; copying and pasting images available in magazines or on the Internet gives people access to otherwise inaccessible subject matter; showing the exciting result of this is good initiation to public exposure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these activities as long as they are used as learning or research tools, and as long as the source material is credited to its creator. However, for a person to then be able to claim ‘I am an artist”, these activities, whether individually or together, are not enough practice.
Artists are people who have stocked a space with the medium or media with which they’ve been learning, experimenting with and which they’ve researched. They’ve prepared the grounds, the tools and the materials of their own choice and with which they will work for their own reasons, having honed in on what it is they aim to create. They’ve decided on a subject matter and imagery they will address, perhaps they have an idea of the themes they will explore and develop, and given themselves a preliminary starting point compositionally or conceptually, perhaps through sketching, photography or collage.
As importantly, artists have set aside time for their creation, they consider it their ‘job’, and they’ve committed to a working schedule of some kind because they understand their own discipline, stamina, endurance and focus. They will do this work not just to sell, not with an exhibition in mind (though one planned in the future may help set an end-date for a series), not to show off their ability or to gain fame but for its own sake. They will do this again and again as the most important, the most necessary activity of their lives.