What I've learned

This is a great discussion we've got going here about the search for something new, in our own art and in that of our art heroes. Ricë is also struggling with this in her own way, which is to say she's kinda horrified and fascinated at the same time. As am I.

Of course we all copy something from time to time, either as we're learning in a class, or sometime down the road when we don't even remember the original source. And that's because, as Kecia said in the last post's comments, we're human and as mixed media artists we do tend to like some of the same things. (On a totally random tangent: that's one reason why one local newscast tends to have the same content and look as the next.)

But I think one of the most frustrating things for people who've been artists for a long time (say, more than ten years) is a lack of control.

You've worked really hard to figure out your Thing, and then here come hordes of people trying to do exactly what you spent years noodling with and imbuing with your personal meaning. It's diluting your brand, as the marketing people would say. What's so great about the Sistine Chapel ceiling if anyone can buy something similar -- and even worse, watching them replace it once they lose interest?

Another aggravating thing: you don't even know if someone's just sincerely attempting to learn and grow, or if they're just ripping you off because what you do is hot right now and copying is easier than innovating.

But you'd never stop everyone from putting dunce caps on every vintage image (for example), even if you wanted to. Unless you're Disney, and you have an entire division of people who do nothing but hunt down copycats and copyright infringers.

Second, if you're a Name, you never know if a similar artwork really is generated independently from your own work. It does happen all the time, but the chances of that drop in inverse proportion to your renown, don't you think?

That's why some lawyers make a lot of money defending Famous Person X in lawsuits that say he swiped someone else's original work and made millions. (Also why other lawyers make a living just by convincing FPX's lawyers to give them lots of money to drop the lawsuit. And why music sampling in hip-hop was such a huge deal in that business.) Even if it's settled in court, you just never know for sure.

And third, as Kecia said, the retreat business exists because we want to learn how someone else does what they do. Retreats wouldn't exist without newbies -- 'cause there just ain't enough artists out there on the level of a Lynne Perrella or a Michael deMeng who have the time to just get together for a convention.

This is another reason why I think a Room of One's Own is necessary for artists. (Thank you, Virginia Woolf.) You can hear yourself think, so to speak, on more than one level. Once you know what you want to say, you seek out others to share it with them. You sell your stuff, or you teach your techniques, or whatever. But it doesn't get a chance to emerge without the isolation. Without a Room of One's Own, I think you're forced to take over someone else's Room just to be fed creatively -- to search for the Next Big Thing, because you have nothing else. And that's no fair -- or fun -- either.

I think we'll all be fine, even the Name artists who teach. Someone may have taught you everything you know...

but that doesn't mean they've taught you everything they know.
Posted on November 8, 2007 and filed under "deep thoughts", "like it love it want some more of it".