Tuesday, November 16, 2010


This is another topic that comes up periodically - mostly under the topic heading "derivative."  Then there are the words stealing, appropriating, copying, and -- gasp -- counterfeit, that crop up in some of these on-line conversations about art quilts.

Sigh...blah blah blah blah- it just goes on and on: people accusing other people of copying someone else's style or worrying that they will be accused of same, just because they once took a class with someone and are using that person's method of construction or techinque of cutting.  It makes me tired.  Why are we so hung up on that word "derivative"?? Is this an art quilt obsession?? Is it because we are relatively new to making ART that we drive ourselves nuts about this stuff?.

There have always been artists who painted the same things in the same style at the same time because they were all experimenting with a new way of seeing. You would be hard put to tell the difference between work by X and Y.  And even Z's work got into the act. Nobody cared then and nobody cares now.

Ditto music: Beethoven's 6th has phrases in it that could easily have been written by Mendelssohn. Can you always tell the difference between Mozart and Hayden?  And Leonard Bernstein was clearly influenced by Aaron Copland and Gershwin -- you can HEAR it. So what? It is still Bernstein's music.
There are a million examples of this in every type of art.

I did start out with synchronicity, didn't I?  Yes, it happens - more than we think.  Many of us have experienced making work and then seeing a piece from clear across the planet that is strikingly similar in subject or even style, although neither of you could possibly have seen each other's work because they were being done at the same time and you didn't know each other, to boot.  There are two other artists whose work I relate to - and saw the first time with the shock of recognition because we both use one particular element in our work.  We developed separately, as did our work - and we did not know each other.  Parallel lines of interest and thought.

I like to call it "family resemblance."  Here are two pieces done by two artists who live 3000 miles from one another and who had never met.  This is my piece, X-Post Facto.

It was truly with the shock of recognition that I saw Karen Rips' piece, "Exhale" and somehow knew that we were kindred spirits. 

I sent her a picture of my piece and she couldn't get over it, either.  We finally met when I taught in California and it never occurred to either one of us that there had been anything but coincidence.

I had made mine a year or so before she made hers; hers was part of a series but mine was the only one I ever made like that, before or since. Either one of us could have made both pieces. SYCHRONICITY:
it happens.  Embrace it.

A possible idea for an exhibit.  Anybody want to curate a Synchronicity show?


Gerrie said...

Loved this post. I have many ideas for my fiber art and sometimes I see those ideas executed by someone else!!

Terry Grant said...

And yet, looking at the two pieces I think I would know which one is yours and which one is Karen's and they are both terrific and would look stunning together in a show.

Similarities happen, but I think what most people miss in this discussion when it comes up yet again, is that when someone is *intentionally* copying another person's work they are not allowing their own voice to develop or their own ideas to find fruition. It's not so much about ripping something else off as it is about shortchanging yourself.

Eva said...

An encouraging idea -- to me! Does it seem paradox? Would anyone be discouraged and give up her style at the sight of something amazingly similar? No. There is only one reason to be cautious: If something is imitated with the purpose to fake someone else's art for profit. Unless this is the case, we are free to imitate.
Maybe the fear to look like someone else is a sign of overstressed individuality. In other cultures -- say Tibetan -- it was not desirable to work in an individual style, but the paintings had to fulfil the traditional code; the reason was that reborn individuals should be able to recognize the images from former lives. A common code connects people and creates tribal identity. Maybe someday we'll come back to such an ideal.

TALL GIRL said...

I love this post too! And synchronistic as Gerrie and I frequently create similar work... Yet we've never studied with each other! Weird science...

Alicia Merrett said...

That is full of excellent points Rayna, which I very much agree with. I do believe in synchronicity!
I can never tell which of the cubist paintings is by Picasso, or Bracque, or whoever else... You don't attribute the three paintings you illustrate your post with, and I bet few people could attribute them correctly, unless they know the work very well.

Eva said...

Gris -- Picasso -- Bracque.
If I can trust the picture information (right mouse button)-- haha, did you think I knew? Didn't.

Libby Fife said...

What is the expression about a thousand monkeys and the typewriter? Somehow, I think it applies. It is inevitable that works would be similar. Among humans, there are some common ways of thinking and seeing. I think the difficulty comes in though (hurt feelings) when someone blatantly copies something and doesn't acknowledge it or worse, passes it off as an original idea. It just feels a little mean spirited. And again, I just think it goes back to people being confidant enough to own what they do (their own work).

Marni said...

I love the idea of a synchronicity show. I am not, however, a curator. And, if I were, it would be a fiber art show, not a quilt art show (since what I make now can't be defined as a quilt).

Elizabeth Barton said...

Religion too...as Joseph Campbell pointed out, many religions have virgin births.
Inventions and other discoveries.
maybe the same discussions are doomed to go around for ever! Art vs craft anyone?!!

Jo Vandermey said...

I am not really up on the work of the great artists. But there are artists who were greats that had schools where people studied under them and painted in their style. Works that are very simuliar.

We who want to develop our Quilting Art need to study, need to buy books, take classes. Will we create genuine cutting edge art? No, not at first. We are influenced by what we see. We try to emulate a design so we can figure out form or/and function. This is how we learn. My kids did the same in school art classes. They studied techniques and copied styles. If they copied a Piccaso it still wouldn't be a Piccaso.

So as a new art quilter if I read a book on Art Quilting by Susan Stein and make something with the lessons learned in the book even down to very simuliar shape and form does that make me Susan Stein? No. I do not have her name in the art world or her skill set.

Now if I copy it put her name on it and sell it to me that is fraud.

To become a great artist some people are born that way. They create wonderful original work (some say however nothing is new under the sun...) Will I ever be a great quilt artist? Maybe, Maybe not. Will I learn to develop my own voice in what I want to do. Definitely. Will I come up with ideas that are similiar to what is in the books that I am reading and using to develop my skills? Definitely. How else do I develop my skills?

Sometimes I long for the apprenticeship program where you can study under a master. Or that there was a recognised study program like my friend who became a Master Spinner here in Ontario after studying and completing a very difficult series of course work.

I have looked for classes in my area - fact is not many do art quilts. There is no club or quild near by. We do not have courses at major university and colleges in Fabric arts in Ontario. (And Ontario is a huge area of land)Accept for a few fashion design courses. We don't have the projects or quilt museums as in the states. We don't even have a Houston, Puducah, Vermont Quilt Festival etc. (We do have Quilt Canada evey two years) To go to a major retreat in the States is not economically viable or time wise viable for me. The cost is just to great for five days and travel costs. (Post Secondary ed for my kids... sigh)

So meanwhile I hang out on Quilting Arts. com and buy books and video's as I can afford them.
My first couple of Art Quilts are similiar to what I have seen in my books - my next are a bit more adventurous. I haven't yet made to many. I am just starting. But I have caught the bug. And can't wait to do more.

Someday I will be confident in my skills as my own. But as we live and breathe we are influenced by those who come before us and those we aspire to be like.

Anybody want a email apprentice?

Diane Wright said...

You GO!! I love your "rants". Always interesting, thought provoking...and they're especially satisfying when they reflect my own views (only better stated)

wlstarn said...

And then there were the female artists, like Judith Leyster, who were buried for centuries because of incorrect attribution-to male artists, of course. Stylistic similarity, but only to a certain point.

Nina Marie said...

Here! Here!! Do you feel better now Rayna? LOL!! I always laugh when I hear people trying to come up with someothing original. After thousands of years of art is anything original? The only thing that really changes is how we view art. Of course though, I want my work to look like me. . . .sigh - are we ever satisfied??

Terry Jarrard-Dimond said...

Love your rant Rayna! Originality is a wonderful goal but in our global environment it's both hard sometimes to be original and also hard to copy so maybe there is some balance. There is also that wonderful idea of ziegeist meaning great ideas springing up in various parts of the world totally seperate but at the same time. It happens. xo, T

Dianne Koppisch Hricko said...

HI Rayna

Interesting post.

Sandy said...

I'm not willing to curate the Synchronicity show but I am available as a featured speaker! I work cheap too. LOL, one of my favorite topics and boy can I rant too! I wouldn't call two similar pieces developingfrom 2 different people exactly synchronicity- more like Symbiotic Creativity or something where 2 people unbeknownst to each other work on the same project and reach the same results. But I'll cover all this in my keynote address/ hahahahaha

Sandra Wyman said...

About thirteen and a half years ago I invented low-water dyeing. On the other side of the Atlantic so did Ann Johnston. She got ahead of me and wrote the book (complete with variants I hadn't thought of) We chatted about it when she was over here not long afterwards. We were both fine with it.Perhaps it's all something to do with Zeitgeist ("the spirit of the age") And inventions are simply discoveries waiting to be made.

Thanks for another really intelligently thought-provoking post, Rayna, wonderfully illustrated!

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