From Homage to Imitation

May 19, 2015 6 Comments

Years ago at a national show, I saw a painting that I thought crossed the line from homage to imitation. It was painted on Yupo using the same design scaffold, color scheme, subject, scale of objects, and personal slant as a George James painting. It even included the checkered pattern and tea pot that George frequently depicts in his work. In my mind, the painting was too strongly influenced by James to be considered original thinking. When I think of that painting now, I still feel confident in my judgment, but it reminds me that all artists and societies create their own standards for originality.

Throughout much of human history, societies across the world expected artists to adhere to visual codes. We see these codes beautifully expressed on Egyptian tombs and Pre-Columbian artifacts. This tradition continues today in religious iconography, with its strict rules regarding color, scale and presentation.

Our current Western culture instead emphasizes originality, but to what result? I need only to recall last week's article to suggest that the result is not always positive. If originality does not emerge from an artist's own desire, the pressure to be original becomes as much a demand from society as an artistic code was in the past. If a contemporary artist can't repeat anything that's been done before, she may feel as limited as an ancient Egyptian craftsman inscribing a tomb., 

Remembrance by Lynn Powers

I think it's helpful for artists to contemplate the extremes of originality and artistic codes and arrive at some middle ground - perhaps a set of personal boundaries. As you can imagine, I'm swept over with new ideas each time we work with an artist at Creative Catalyst. After an artist visits our studio, I find it helpful to do a review of my work. I look at four areas of personal development.

Calla Lilly, A Powers' Flower, by Lynn Powers

 

Technique: Information about how to apply paint to a specific substrate.
Content: What I choose to paint (e.g. people, flowers, landscapes, non-objective designs, dreams).
Design: The arrangement of shapes, color scheme, use of line, and any anything else related to composition.
Personal Slant:  The viewpoint I bring to my art (e.g. optimistic, angry, ordered, political).

Zinnia, scratchboard , by Lynn Powers

 

If I find that I'm trending too far in multiple areas toward one of my artistic influences, I take another look at what I'm doing. I ask myself if I'm contributing enough of me to make the work mine. If the answer is no, I certainly would not enter my paintings into a show as an expression of me.



Fortunately we are all free to arrive at our own conclusions. But falling into thoughtless reproduction of any teacher or influence's style means losing one of the best reasons to paint: creating a visual expression of how each of us experiences our world. We all experience the world in an original way, and hopefully we can each draw on our experience to provide the level of originality we feel is necessary in our work.

Cheers,

Lynn Powers

www.lynnpowersart.com

Prints Available

 

 

 

 

A force of Nature, by Lynn Powers


6 Responses

B. Hildebrand
B. Hildebrand

May 02, 2017

I am a realist painter and at every workshop that I
take the instructor usually tries to make me into a
loose painter. Lynn’s article is very timely even
though it was written in 2015. Be true to yourself!

Pam Malone
Pam Malone

May 26, 2015

Well said, Lynn! I always enjoy your comments. They are never to harsh but raise the awareness. Thank you.

Pam Malone
Pam Malone

May 26, 2015

Well said, Lynn! I always enjoy your comments. They are never to harsh but raise the awareness. Thank you.

Harold Walkup
Harold Walkup

May 26, 2015

During a small show of mine years ago I overheard someone say "He paints a lot like….(my current instructor). I never took a class from him again. Didn’t want to be compared that easily.

Gail Johnson
Gail Johnson

May 26, 2015

I saw a dramatic example of this 15 years ago when a watercolor society had a very influential member who taught a few, very popular, special sessions of the class he taught at a local college. This was a full 16 weeks of painting in his style and required a lot of work, meaning that most participants had no time for their work in their own style. At the next group show the decline in variety and creativity was obvious and I could easily spot the paintings of his students. I noticed recently that his style has changed radically since then. I can’t help wondering if he was pushed into change by seeing too many other paintings like his. The best teachers help students paint the style and subject that suits the student.

Brenda Brannon
Brenda Brannon

May 26, 2015

When an artist is “young” to a particular style or medium, the best they can do is imitate what they are taught. A more mature artist can take the principles of what they have learned and apply it to their own style. I have seen actual copies, usually works created in a class or workshop, displayed in local “art society” shows. While the artist may have done a great job at copying the original, it is still just that, a copy. Likewise, when we “imitate” too closely an artist’s signature style, it also becomes questionable, in my opinion.

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