Art School: Copycat
by Gregory Gusse
At a recent discussion in my home the question came up as to whether an artist deserved the award she received. The issue was the work was an exact replication even in spirit to what her master had taught her.
I, of course, asked was it a craft competition or an art competition and said, if an art competition then no, never, not at all. Replication, is a craft it does not meet the definition, even the most banal definition found in dictionaries of art.
Here are four from the Free Dictionary:
1. One, such as a painter, sculptor, or writer, who is able by virtue of imagination and talent or skill to create works of aesthetic value, especially in the fine arts.
2. A person whose work shows exceptional creative ability or skill: You are an artist in the kitchen.
3. One, such as an actor or singer, who works in the performing arts.
4. One who is adept at an activity, especially one involving trickery or deceit: a con artist.
It is #4 that Degas was on to...
1. virtue of imagination, 2.exceptional creative ability 3. performing art 4 and all the others like the woman in question CON ARTIST.
Why would I say such a thing when even Picasso said “art is theft”. T.S Eliot said in better words than I will ever wield what I am getting at; “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal, bad poets deface what they take and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.”
We all learn from route copying. I suspect every poet I know remembers learning to write his letters, with big blocks of dotted outlines we heavily crayoned over that resembled so facsimile of A or B or even C. And when that was mastered, in first grade would come cursive and pencils and then ten or twenty or even fifty years might go by and those learned letters just might have become words and an original assemblage of other peoples ideas might, just might become a poem.
I was listening to some TED talk thirteen year old genius college professor who had been imprisoned by autism when he was young. He said he was saved when he decided to stop learning and start thinking and creating. It was even more compelling because I had suggested the same thing to a young artist. To become an artist she would have to quit copying the brush work and colors of others, stop learning, and steal their thoughts and meanings and merge them with her own and create. I hope she does!
You may be in school painting for the Master with the Masters signature. You may forever make perfect copies and perhaps you should be given awards for such renderings. Grand Champion Copycat for instance. Learning and learning in pursuit of perfect learning. But an artist educates themselves, frees themselves. Slaves learn but seldom see freedom, free folks think for themselves.
Creativity, meaning, imagination, separate the mundane from the artist. These qualities define art not craftiness, as helpful as technical precision may be to the artist. Individualism is another trait. Cezanne, Picasso, Gauguin, van Gogh, Monet, Manet stole from each other like crazy but each stood out as their own soul.
It takes soul to be an artist.