You Thought I Wouldn’t Notice?

I know a few people who wanted to take up figurative painting, they asked me how to start. I remembered an old interview in The New Yorker with John Currin, he said that sometimes you can learn more from bad artists than you can from good ones. From a pure technical standpoint, he is right! So, I’ve told people to start by simply copying what I consider empty, cheesy, but technically well produced paintings. Namely stuff such as Wyland, Thomas Kinkade or anything you would find in an art gallery in Laguna Beach for that matter. Of course I’m not saying copy it and pass it off as your own, but rather, learn from it and use it as pure study. I’ve taken this advice and started getting magazines such as The Artist’s Magazine and International Artist. Totally not my bag, it is all features on artists that win a lot of regional competitions for still lifes and family portraits that make me want to puke; they cater to those only interested in Realism of Impressionist styles, but they do give good advice on materials and show process. I appreciate this aspect since I think I’m still a baby in progress in using oil paint for only 7 years now.

The issue of copying other well-known paintings and recognizable fashion photography has been getting to me lately. I won’t name names here, but I’m quite annoyed because they think no one will notice. I am, granted, guilty of copying exactly 4 pieces where I may have changed the image by 30% or more, but my central figure or idea was totally ripped off from another source such as a fashion magazine or obscure painting. I sort of considered it learning and an homage all at once. I once copied two different Tamara de Lempicka paintings, combined them, changed the hair, pose and backgrounds and so forth. No one said anything. Maybe they were too polite too. My instructor at the time, Jim Shaw, totally called my bullshit though. I never did it again. Sure I copy from Vanity Fair or W Magazine in little bits, such as the position of a hand or the way fabric falls, but never an image or concept as a whole. Unfortunatly I’ve been seeing lots of copying by artists recently, not only of famous pieces (which they should know better), but of contemporaries. For those of you who think no one will notice if you copy Derek Hess, Ryan McGuinness, Shag, Darren Grealish, Attaboy or any number of poster, stencil and toy designers…check it: You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice…

Not only am I really good with my art history, I also remember fashion imagery rather well. Well enough that I’ve had subscriptions to Vogue and W since the early 90s. I once saw a CD cover that totally copied a model from a shoot wearing a Galliano gown, only the artist changed the background and nothing more. He probably though no one would notice, but I did. Sure it was an image from a 1997 issue of Vogue, but I remembered it. Again, practice or an homage is one thing, but when you try to pass off copied work as your own you just look like you have no original ideas. Take for instance how the tables have turned in the recent case of photographer Steven Klein ripping off imagery from Jonathan Viner paintings for an issue of W Magazine, and didn’t credit Viner. You can read about it on Viner’s Myspace Blog. Mr. Klein must have gotten called out big time, he wants to pitch Viner for a feature as an apology of sorts.

Anyways, being inspired by or using a work as a practice piece is fine. Just don’t be a douche and think you can get away with going any further. Not to name names again, but if you are a painter and you copy in ways where you try to change the original image by a small percent and pass it off as your own, someone will notice and just feel bad for you. Also it helps not to copy rather well-known images.

Like this dress…

This hand with this animal…

this expression and pose…

or the whole of this…

yeah, a lot of us are going to notice. We may not say anything to your face, but we will know….


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