Painting from photos…cheating? (2)
June 29, 2007
Why am I still feeling grumpy about this question? It’s not my business to make a judgement about what others think they need to do as artists. It’s not my business even to make a judgement about who is and who is not an artist – right? Everybody can call himself an “artist” who wants to do so without any violation of laws – the profession “artist” – or maybe obsession – is not protected under any law by definition – unfortunately – so what the heck…?
Still there is some bitter taste on my tongue that in many cases the audience does not (cannot?) make a difference between the results of hard working artists, who try to achieve something (what?) by work, commitment and perseverance, taking the long way of learning and studying, practising and those which are”achieved” by cheating and hype through devious marketing strategies. Life is not fair – isn’t it?
Copying from photos is cheating – or not? I am really not quite sure. Sometimes I feel it is – sometimes not. I have seen biased opinions about it.
Today it is so easy to copy a photo with the help of a computer. You scan the image, blow it up to the size you need it, print it and trace it on to the medium and then paint it – just like you would have done in your youth with all those tracing-painting books of your childhood where you just needed to fill out the colours. That easy (actually it is not quite as easy as I discovered lately – it takes quite a while and some additional skill such as the right colour mixing. It also depends how far you go with your copy – if you are going to paint a photo-realistic copy of your photo it is going to be not only quite complicated but also very labour intensive – add. comment as of Feb-04-08) So why taking time and effort to learn about drawing or any other medium when you can work around it? Why learn to write and read when you can listen to a CD? Why to learn foreign languages when you can have computer translation programs?
But this would not be art making – wouldn’t it? This has nothing to do with original art work nor being unique. To trace a face from a photo, draw or paint it would not be original art work – right?
Hm – no-one would in fact realize that you traced a photo when you delivered a magnificent drawing to some customer while using all the modern techniques of tracing. No-one in fact would be able to decide whether you really have learned to draw a face or whether you have just copied it. The audience out there won’t realize. So what’s the problem then? Would this be cheating? Is it important at all whether you are capable of drawing a face? (This is a question I often hear among “artists”) Wouldn’t it be sufficient to know how to achieve the result you want to have – no matter which techniques you used?
Art history shows that through all the centuries artists have used all sorts of technical aids. Think of the camera obscura, whose simple technique helped the artists to trace objects in the right perspective. Nobody would have ever thought about cheating using this simple technique.
Isn’t art making also about experimenting, inventing new techniques, using traditional techniques in new contexts, creating images in a new “dress”, about modifying traditions and techniques? You could say “hello – we live in the 21st century! We live in the era of the digital image! So what’s this fuss about cheating?”
But art making is also about being curious, it’s about learning how something works, it’s about discovery of unknown materials and how to find an answer to a question, it’s about expanding the visual world and finally about being a human who is capable of something that divides us from the animals: doing something artificial that is meant for decoration by intent not by instinct (because this would apply to several birds also which use decorations as part of their mating ritual – just as an example).
In the beginning of the 20th century the medium “collage” became a greater part of modern art, reinforced by Picasso and Georges Bracques, which in fact was an assemblage of different materials and art forms – thus also using old photos (not their own) and other stuff to form a new work of art. Unfortunately this has become a kind of overestimated trendy art form which in my opinion has declined into some handicraft items which are sold as cheap gifts by the thousands. Also this does not request specific capabilities such as carving or drawing skills – it requires a feeling for composition and other basic skills though, in order to result in a piece of art. So where is the commonly valid definition who is to be called a true artist and who not?
Maybe one could see it that way: if you try to “sell” an art work as an original drawing from life and you tracked it from a photo – then this would be cheating. If you copy a face from a magazine and “sell” it as an original fine art painting – this would be cheating and additionally violating copyrights.
So what could we – and should we – do about all the fakes out there? Is there a way to say ” hey – you bastard – you collected all the praise for something that was not really accomplished by your skills – you cheated!” or should we rather say “hey – congratulations – for being so clever to have found a way how to work around all those requirements and achieving a result in almost economical way!”? What would we lose or gain in either way?
It would be interesting to get to know whether the audience is really interested in the how-tos of an art work. I think it isn’t. The brouhaha some artists achieve on the basis of tricks and pretensions is annoying but not extinctable. And it is not even new! It is always unfair when people gain attention and make money with cheating – but this is how the world is – not only in the art world. Statistics speak of about 1 third of the CV’s that are presented at companies being fakes. 30 % of lies! And when I read about some artist’s resumés and what they say they have achieved – my BS detector goes crazy – whereas it is so easy to check this out. You only need to do some small inquiries on the Internet – and here it goes – the lie. Why – for heaven’s sake – do people not use this resource and their common sense? I wished people would check things out more thoroughly and see what is there to see.