5.20.2009

Copying?

Believe, Beth Hemmila: flourite, fine and sterling silver

Over the past five months I've been tuning into many blog posts about copyright issues and have blissfully kept silent just sitting here pondering all the confusing thoughts and feelings surrounding it, but choosing not to write. For me, it raises a lot of important and uncomfortable questions about being human and alive in the world, and I wanted to give space to these thoughts. I genuinely hope you'll tune into my series of blog posts on Wednesdays over the next three weeks, so I can hear your thoughts and feelings about the questions I put out into the universe.

Topics

Week 1: What is the difference between art and craft?
Week 2: What lurks beneath my need for originality?
Week 3: Am I a copy of the universe?
Week 4: Do I have enough nourishment?

P.S. With a genuine heart, I have enjoyed reading the different blog posts about copyright, the story of each creative spirit who may have felt a trust come undone by the experience of copying, and am no way disputing the legalities of the subject matter.

I hope to offer space for the feelings and spiritual questions that emerge from the topic of copyright. For in all honesty, when I hear that word, my heart starts fluttering a little too rapidly, which signals to me a place where I am holding on too tight. Truth be told I don't know what to feel about copyright or how I would react. So in all humbleness, I hope you will humor me on this journey of self-discovery into every modern artist's Heart of Darkness -- copyright.

Am I Copying?

At some point in the creative process I believe everyone asks themselves the question "Am I copying?" For me, I can say with all honesty that I look at, sketch, and am directly inspired by ancient art. So I would feel comfortable with the idea that my scarab charm pictured above is a copy of an image that was created 3000 years ago by Egyptians. However, that copying has always been my intent. I want people to reconnect with these ancient symbols and images through my work so its message is still alive in the world.

What comes up for me when I think about my scarab design is some professor saying, "but that's not art, that's craft."

I'd like to open a door for thinking about what differentiates art from craft, and more importantly when we define art as uniqueness are we reinforcing the shift from an ancient, spiritually, group-based mindset to a individualist, modern point of view? How does this influence our daily outlook on the world and ourselves?

My Favorite Copyists

Prehistoric man = Lascaux cave paintings
Egyptians = Book of the Dead
Medieval monks = Book of Kells
Giotto's Workshop = Arena Chapel Frescoes

17 comments:

  1. the unfortunate aspect of the many copyright issues is that it seems to divide us and sometimes even destroy us instead of bringing us together as a harmonious artistic community of mostly women. beginning artists look for mentors, people whose work they admire and aspire to. understanding your role from both ends is key, that the mentor should feel honored to be admired as such, and the new artist that they must develop more of their own style over time. these are the "rules" as I have seen them commented on. however, another question is how to differentiate "copying" from simply following the popular style or trend of the moment. If none of us "copied" another artist ever, then none of us component artists would sell a thing because someone would come up and say they were being copied because someone else was using the same pendant or bead in their design. For instance, I started seeing bisque doll parts a couple of years ago here and there, now you can see them in most every publication in one piece or another from different artists and mediums. Can anyone argue there is a copyright issue there for a design component? I have read complaints about it from distinguised artists. Same as color choices or design. The infinite variety of all, is bound to overlap at some point. Style and current trends then reinforce designers to use the same components. This is just how it is and it is unfortunate that it divides us so.

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  2. I have posted these thougths before. But copying is how all the old masters taught their students .The students ( apprentice) spent years duplicating the masters work before they went out on their own . The biggest thing we really copy is nature. There really is only a few out there who totally copy and when they do so it shows a lack of creatively on their part . Why worry to much about that , if that is all they can do . Most of what you see is just an influence in an others work which then in time evolves beyond the influence and into something totally original . If you feel fear when we see that influence in someone's art that maybe has come from your own work, then you need to exam where your own art style came from. Maybe the real fear is the lack of creative growth in ourselves. In life and art, growth is the most important thing to stay alive . If fear of others taking from us and are inability to rise and grow beyond that gets in the way then we are in a very bad place . My advice to anyone in fear is a walk in nature the ultimate creation or then a little history in art and artist of the past. Love your work and how you utilize the 3000 year old influence . julie

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  3. It is so nice to see this topic discussed in an reflective manner. It gets me really uptight when there is an accusatory tone, which I'm sure stems from hurt. Wouldn't we all be freaked out if our children didn't copy us when learning to speak or walk? It's how we all learn. I think the hurt is when due credit is not given. Sometimes trying on a style or theme can help us grow into our own. Like when a musician is asked about their influences, we are all influenced by what we come in contact with. We all sprang from something.

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  4. We are all feeling, emotional beings. I think it all comes down to feelings and emotions. As an individual, all I can do is evaluate my own feelings. If I find they do not serve me, I must try to address them. There are reasons we feel the way that we do. All feelings we experience are valid ones. There is no right or wrong. I wish to acknowledge, consider, and respect all others feelings. I wish to treat others with respect.

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  5. To everyone...what rich thoughts in regards to this question!

    Jennifer, I love the observation how copyright seems to separate instead of connect us. I hadn't thought in these terms. Super powerful ideas for me.

    Julie, your insight about fear of creative growth within rang so true with me and see my next blog post touching on this aspect. You really got to the heart of the matter for me!

    Gaea what a beautiful metaphor of copying, teaching children how to speak or walk. When you get down to it copying/mimicry is primal and elemental to our survival :)

    Erin, cheers to acknowledging the respect we all hope for in our lives and to give to others.

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  6. Beth, as I've worked in my studio all morning as a potter, I've thought more and more about the craft vs art question you posed. Being a potter, this is an argument that has raged in the ceramics community for decades. I'm not sure just when craft became such a pejorative term, but certainly longer ago than the rise in DYI.

    Anyway, it makes me think of the tea ceremony. Tea bowls, a functional 'craft' item are a central part of a beautiful practice. A practice that has deep spiritual meaning and origin. The tea ceremony is art. And tea bowls and their aesthetic and form are a valued part of that tradition.

    Which brings me to my own view of art. It is a living breathing thing that only has meaning in a shared context, be that universal symbols or acts of community, or one person carrying away a story or, a smile even, from something made by another.

    So I suppose that gets a little at the second part of your question. But further to that, it is my personal opinion that when we are so driven by individualism, we become competitive and quarelsome, and often hurtful of others. But then my spiritual beliefs are highly driven by the notion of being part of an interdependent web of existence, including our expression of art.

    I don't know if that makes sense.

    Beth, I truly appreciate you bringing up these thoughts for discussion. I'm looking forward to next Wednesday.

    Warm regards, LeAnn

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  7. Oh LeAnn, Thank you, thank for you these wonderful musings! I'm a glutton for anything having to do with the Japanese tea ceremony so ceramics is right up there with things I most revere. See my blog post about wabi sabi http://hintjewelry.blogspot.com/2008/08/b-side-wabi-sabi.html

    I love how you captured this thought so simply with art "is a living breathing thing that only has meaning in a shared context." It is alive in every moment and appreciate you enlightening me to this facet :)

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  8. I will be listening intently to this subject too. Recently, a good friend of mine, a jeweler, was emailed a threatening letter from a lawyer representing another jewelry designer who was threatening suit for a patent infringement. It was an earwire. The top of it had two 90 degree angles and the letter was a cease and desist. I was flabbergasted. But I suppose a paper clip is a bent piece of wire too...I was initially mad, then a bit scared about putting my work out there in internet land in case I have inadvertantly done something that has been done before. But after reflection, I decided not to worry about it. I have been copied and I really don't care. I rarely do the same design twice as I am always moving toward something else. By the time a piece of mine is put on Etsy or 1KM, I am on to something else. I think ear wires and jump rings and head pins have been done so much that it seems ridiculous to copyright them, but to each her own. I think when you constantly think in such a rigid, frivilous way, worried about people "taking" your idea, you have bigger issues then I want to be concerned with. I try not to look at too many other jewelry designers work in case their ideas imprint on my sub-conscience, but other then that, I am going to keep on growing and learning and taking my cues from Mother Nature too. The only company so far to patent Her is Monsanto, but that is another story. Thanks for doing this, I am looking forward to it!

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  9. I enjoy vintage designs and replicating them, but adding my own twist to their look to update them. I recently started experimenting with pewter casting and created a scarab design bead in metal, based on a carving from an actual scarab a friend brought me back from Cairo many years ago. In order to have the look I want, recognizable as an egyptian symbol of resurrection, it has to resemble the original. Now, on the photo for this blog post there's a beautiful photo of Beth's scarab bead. Will someone (even Beth herself) think that I am copying her? Even in spirit, because they are both metal and both meant to represent scarab imagery, do I risk being misunderstood in what I'm creating and my intention?

    When japanese prints and drawings first came into view in Europe after Japan was reached by the fleets, their images and flat-color style influenced the Impressionists, and some of the artists reproduced the actual prints. But they evolved it, creating something new and very special that wouldn't have existed without their interpretation.

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  10. Thank you Beth for discussing this topic in a more introspective and gentler fashion.
    I agree with Gaea that a lot of these discussions stem from someone being hurt that they are copied, understandably so. But then the discussion becomes very emotional and subjective. The opinions of what is "copying" are all over the place, and trying to keep track of all these "rules" while creating can make ones head spin.
    The harsh reality is that the people who are willing to copy someone's work and pass it off as their own are not impacted by these discussions at all. But it does create anxiety in people like myself who would never copy another's work.
    You are probably saying, "That is your problem," and you are right. I need to find a way to feel comfortable being inspired by others without anxiety, and trust that the outcome will be unique.
    When I need some help with this I will reread Julie's post, I think she said it best.

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  11. This just keeps getting better and better. How deep this subject is to our hearts!

    Stacie, thanks for the story about your friend earwire, that is something that would definitely create unease in life and have me kind of free falling. I like your pragmatic approach to designing and keeping focused.

    Lynn, haha! You know what I want to say more scarabs, more scarabs!! The more the merrier because wouldn't it be cool if at least a 1/3 of the country understood the meaning behind a scarab -- renewal, rebirth. So maybe it should be that all the jewelry designers should get together and come up with the scarab bead campaign and plaster and get everyone so revved up that we all want to wear one no matter the maker.

    Gardanne, yes Julie's thoughts were incredibly succinct and insight, coming back to how we feel about our own creative growth. I'm still thinking about that one! Thanks for joining the discussion :)

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  12. This was a great discussion starter. My two cents are it is all true.
    When you see a piece exactly like yours you cringe and there are feelings. When you make something you think is fully yours and you see another you gasp ..will they think I copied... and then there are corporate giants truly ripping off our colleagues lock stock and barrel. that is another issue.

    Under it all is the craft, the joy, the doing,,, yes we get irritated but do we need to create more than we need to worry?/ I think our collective need to be in a studio or at the bench or easel is the true reward and . we are tapping into a vast universe of images, symbols and feelings and we can not be un-influenced by our human connectedness.

    As my 5 year son said years ago visiting a small German village.. "oh mom I've been here before" . Ahhhh yes

    I will keep making and sputtering and learning and delighting myself
    with clay and other art forms. Gratitude for my eyes, hands, heart and head and the ability to discern. Keep on Keep on Joan Tucker

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  13. Joan, what a powerful memory of your son!! That totally sums up our human connectedness experience. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and joining in the discussion :)

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  14. The answer to question 1, according to my ex hubby, art is something done by someone who has been to art school, it's as simple as that.
    much love Martine
    p.s. just love your jewellery

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  15. haha, thanks Martine for simplicity!

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  16. superb subject matter and I loved reading all of the delicately written and heartfelt opinions. In regards to question #1, oh how it flusters me.... art can be craft and craft can be art, we just somehow love to seperate ourselves with titles.

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  17. Heather so glad you connected with this post and all the amazing comments! And in regards to question #1, I think had a slight shiver the other day when my main man said "you're so crafty." Wow, it's just hardwired in and on automatic response. Fun to watch how the brain works and like you said, loves to separate and create categories.

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I'd love for you to share your ideas and stories on my blog! Please know that I may not always be able to e-mail you a direct response, so be sure to check back to my blog and continue the dialogue. Many blessings for connecting with me through word and image :)