Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's Perfectly Ok to Steal (if You're An Artist)

There's an underappreciated expression- "Steal like an artist" that was first coined by Picasso, I believe.  He said "Good artists borrow, great artists steal", and I get the distinct impression that younger artists see this as a bad thing.

For clarification, by stealing, I do not mean the theft of intellectual properties, programs, music, or video.  I do not condone that.  Nor do I condone the theft of supplies, nor the theft of money to procur said supplies.  I do not mean stealing other people's artwork to pass off as your own, nor tracing and slight alteration of other's work to pass off as your own, nor any variation of the two.  What I mean by stealing is studying the style of work that appeals to you, analyzing this appeal, and using those elements in your own work, with your own variation on this.

For some reason, on confession sites like ArtistConfessions.tumblr, I see a lot of aspiring artists worrying about stealing elements from styles they like, and working hard to prevent that from happening.  I feel like the intense hatred for anime and manga styles on sites such as that are based on the distaste for  people who borrow tropes and symbols from manga and anime without fully understanding what these represent.  This comes from an artist who has learned how to draw solely from looking at the works of others, and has no understanding of the basic structure.  I feel like, if you develope an understanding of the basic human structure, as well as an understanding of how the visual world around you is made up of basic shapes, you'll avoid this problem for the most part.

These aspiring artists talk about how the artist they admire have worked so hard to develop their visual style and that they would hate to steal it.  First off, no 'style' is created in a vacuum.  Artists do indeed borrow stylistic elements from one another, this is standard practice.  Secondly, 'style' is simply a shorthand for how you represent the world on paper or screen.  If you combine inspiration with lifedrawing, you will eventually end up with a 'style'.  The more inspiration you absorb, the less your 'style' will look like it was borrowed from one source.

Whatever style you choose to work in does not make you less of a person or less of an artist.  What determines your work as an artist is how dedicated you are to your craft.  If you are making art, you are an artist.  If you're talking about making art, but not making art, you aren't an artist.  It's pretty much that cut and dry.

Not everything you do should be posted to sites like DeviantArt.  Your entire sketchbook shouldn't be online for everyone to see.  There are going to be ugly drawings, and that's ok.  You don't have to share those, you don't have to ask for critique on them if you don't want to.  If you do style tests (which I strongly encourage, and that's when you draw in someone else's style) you don't have to post those, maybe you SHOULDN'T post those.  You don't have to share your growth period with anyone, unless YOU want to, hobby artist or professional.  If you want to keep things under wraps while you're figuring out your work and style, that's perfectly ok.

Don't let others make you feel like less if you draw in a particular style.  Don't let strangers on the internet make you feel less capable, no matter what.  You may not be as popular as you think you should be, you may not sell as many commissions as you'd like, you may not be ready for publication, and all of those are ok.  Feel inspired by the work of others, not intimidated.

At SCAD, we've been encouraged to borrow a bit from the artists we love, as well as develope our lifedrawing skills.  There's a lot of Hayao Miyazaki, Kiyohiko Azuma, and Glen Keane in my work, as well as Raina Telgemeier, Becky Cloonan, and Chica Umino.  And those are just the major style influences.  Every day, every time I look at someone's art, or their color choices, or their layout, I'm inspired to take my art in different directions.  I try not to worry too much about what the end result will be, as long as it's aesthetically pleasing.

So don't worry if your style looks a bit like whoever is influencing you most at the moment.  It'll work out, as long as you take influence from a variety of sources, continue to practice, and draw from life as much as possible.

So let's end on a high note.  Let's end with Austin Kleon's take on stealing like an artist.

Austin Kleon, source

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