Copy Cat

Copying is how artists learn to build skill and technique. But what about the ethics of showing and/or selling copied work?

Naide_after_LaTour.jpgNaiade – by Lila ~ after Henri Fantin Latour

There is a common occurrence of emerging artists copying other artists work and/or style.  They try their hand at copying a famous work, and produce their own little copy of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for their kitchen. I created my own copy of La Tour’s Naiade, for myself, as shown above.  She has never left my dining room.

Copying, in this case, it can begin innocently in an art workshop where students are taught to how to paint a canvas from start to finish.   They follow along, painting in a step-by-step fashion in order to produce a finished piece that resembles the instructor’s work.  But when does it go too far and who draws the line?  (no pun intended).

Here’s an example:

I saw a painting up for sale in a gift shop/gallery in a small town.  I have a photographic memory and I recognized the cornfield scene and the style to be that of a well-known local art teacher.  It was a pretty good copy of his work, but the colours did not compare.  Looking more closely, I noticed that the piece was created by one of his students, whom I knew as well.   There was a problem.  This student had put the copy of his painting up for sale to the public without the statement “after John Smith”, which should have followed the student artist’s name.  She presented it for sale – as her own.

If you are an artist and you copy a painting, or even a photographer’s scenic landscape shot from a wall calendar – you must give credit where credit is due.   The original artwork is the vision, composition and creation of the original creator.   When you sign that copied work, it must state after _________” ,  the original artist.

If you teach art, your will invariably will produce clones of your artwork and painting style.  Because all of those student clones have been learning, copying and creating compositions in your style, there are going to be a lot of similar paintings out there.

The problem is a student flogging that copied work for sale – as their own. Copied work put up for sale is not only morally and ethically wrong,  legally, it is misrepresentation and also a violation and infringement of the original artist’s intellectual copyright.

Here’s how tangled it can get…

What about the person who walks into the shop and likes the painting?  Will they think it is an original work of art?   If they find out is it not an original work but copy of another artists work will they be angry? Will they want their money back?   – Yes, yes & yes!

Where does the shop owner stand on this? – Ignorant of the facts, due to non-disclosure by the copy cat artist.

Will his reputation be tarnished as an art seller? – Yes.

If discovered, who will the artist owe an apology to? – The purchaser, the shop owner and especially the artist whose work has been copied and sold.

My message to that student artist is: Keep that forgery in your kitchen, and for goodness sake don’t try and sell it.   A fellow in England went to jail for that, but he was really good.  His stuff sold at auction for millions as true masterpieces.

Another topic relating to this is about – artists copying their peers – such as the work of my Artist friend who’s signature red trees magically appeared in a painting (not hers) at a local art show after she invited an artist friend into her studio for a visit…

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