Friday, June 15, 2007

The Perils of Putting Your Work Out There

Two weeks ago, as I was sitting at my studio during open studios, a friend of my studio mate started talking to me about my work. He had just enough information to ask a couple of questions but then he tried to pretend he knew more. He later told me that he was also an artist and then proceeded to explain that he didn't put his work out on the web for fear that someone would copy it. Then he later told me that he doesn't do the work any more because it isn't good enough....oh well, each to their own!

I have been thinking about this for two weeks. I've heard this argument before...putting your work out there...where ever there may be...opens one up to copying by others and derivative work appearing elsewhere.

I have always put my work out there. On my web, on my blog, in numerous shows, etc. And yes, I have been seeing derivative work showing up. My work frequently goes in series where I explore a design element. I did a lot of postcards with angelina flying geese going across the face of the card, usually with some other designs. I started seeing flying geese showing up in others cards. Derivative? Who knows. Certainly mine were...flying geese have been used by Caryl Bryer Fallert for years. They are also a traditional design pattern in quilting. But I used them a little differently and that was what I started to see...the way I used them.

Does it bother me? No. I am a professional studio artist and if someone else uses a design element that I have been using, who is to say that it is really derivative. Besides, if that is all I have going for my work, I am not much of an artist.

For me, exploration of the use of a design element is fun. Frequent elements that show up in my work have been round circles as "suns", sticks or fences marching across, variable satin stitching, etc. Use one and no problem. But when things start showing up together, I think that someone needs to take another look at their work and recognize that it is derivative.

Why be concerned? If someone makes something similar to mine and keeps it for themselves or uses the process as a way to learn, I have no problem with this. However, when someone starts making things that are pretty similar to mine and they sell their work, I start minding.

Can I do anything about it? Not really. It really isn't a copyright infringement as far as I am concerned as it is not quite close enough to my work. But it sure would be nice if the person would give credit where credit is due.


LoieJ said...

It seems to me to be the difference of singing only in the shower, singing just for family, or singing in local talent shows, and of course, for some people, singing to a really public audience. Each to his own, comfort level, level of work, etc.

Even when I use a pattern, I alter it; that's just my "need to make it mine." Sure, I "copy" general ideas, fabric bowls, for example. I can look at something like that and never need a pattern.

I'm loath to copy anything exactly, but I'm sure that I "derive" something from other people all the time without thinking about it since I look at lots of books and websites.

But who is to say who is "first?" For example, in 1983-1984, I was making my own templates from photos, cutting out the fabric, and then doing machine applique, without the aid of any fusibles because I wasn't reading about any of these things in those days. I'm thinking about doing more work based on my photos again.

I wonder if artists who make patterns of how to do their work "exactly the same" have any right to complain about this issue.

But I do like your approach, as in your QA article, to show how you come up with your ideas. If people want to make something exactly the same, well, they probably can't, but if they do, well, their stuck with a copy, not an original.

Anonymous said...

I get a lot of my ideas from QA. Could I ever "copy"? Not a chance...those women have years of practicing techniques to make their work their own. It's the technique that clicks with a person who can make it work for them. IE Liz Berg, Gerrie Congdon, and Sonji Hunt. All have these beautiful ideas and have taken the time to practice their art and make it work. Let your egos run wild when someone "tries" to copy your work. Isn't that the highest compliment you can get?

And by the way Liz, my thing is tote bags. I like being able to carry around a piece of my work. And I did try your fence post technique. The tote was promptly titled "Liz's Fence and Violets".

Lisa Call said...

"Bad artists copy. Great artists steal." -- Pablo Picasso