Marketing Mondays: Giving and Taking

It’s a poetic truism that as we climb up the career ladder we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. So what happens when the metaphorical shoulders belong to people who are still climbing themselves?
Clip art image from

I’ve been hearing a lot lately from art-world folks who feel ripped off by their colleagues or students. Maybe coveting is just the human condition, but I suspect there's something more at work: the desperation so many have for attention, for success, for a little piece of a shrunken art pie. You know, "I'll have what he's having, even if I have to take it out of his mouth." I've been affected by some of the actions I describe but make no mistake, this post is not a rant. The examples I'm sharing come from all corners of the various art worlds. Today I'd like to consider how we give and take.
Exhibit A
This first one comes from Independent Curator X. He says, "In conversation at an opening I discussed a few ideas with [Y, another independent curator] about a show I was beginning to put together. He [Y] asked some questions, and I answered; I offered some observations and he responded. It was a brief but interesting exchange. The next thing I knew, he'd announced plans for a show suspiciously like the one we'd discussed." Curator X's voice rose as he told the story. “I guess I don’t need to tell you that I’m not sharing much with my colleagues these days."
Exhibit B
Don't I know it. I helped an artist who was writing a book on the same topic as one I’d published. There should be room on an artist's bookshelf for more than one volume on a topic, so I said, “I’ll help you, if you promise you won’t take your book to the same publisher.” We had a verbal agreement. To be honest, the little voice within me kept emitting a warning beep, but I answered her questions, made referrals for her and more. Some time later I got an email telling me she'd sold the book. Where do you think she took it? 
Exhibit C
Artists who teach independently, particularly classes focused on technique and process, see this kind of behavior all the time from the adults they teach. I have heard some version of this story over and over again: Someone takes a workshop. Suddenly that student starts offering the same workshop—with the same outline, the same tips, and in one instance recounted to me, even the same conversational patter of the original workshop teacher, who had developed her engaging style, to say nothing of an original syllabus, over decades of teaching. One come-lately instructor started teaching almost literally down the street from her teacher and for a lower fee. You can call this Capitalism. I call it cannibalism. 

"I had a private student who didn't even know what the primary colors were. The next thing I know, she's teaching!" says a longtime artist well versed in color theory and much more. 

Of course teaching is not just techniques. It's concept, information, inspiration, and it's the instructor's history of experience as well as her experience with art history that is brought to bear in each class. Independent teachers are typically working artists who have found an entrepreneurial way to pay the bills by opening their studios and sharing some of what they know. Theirs is a very different situation from career educators who, working within an institution, are protected either by tenure or by institutional policies that don't typically allow the hiring of recent students. (Adjunct instructors are more vulnerable, alas.)
Exhibit D
Artists who open their studios, whether to students or to friends, leave themselves open to another kind of cannibalism. An artist with a significant exhibition history recounts this story: "Every time I let a particular artist into my studio, I felt like she was casing the joint. She would pick things up and ask a lot of questions about materials and techniques. It felt so odd that after a few visits, if I saw her through the peephole, I didn't answer her knock." Some time later the artist understood what that feeling was: "When I passed by her open door one day, I looked in and saw what appeared to be my work! She'd been ripping off my ideas. Not only that, I learned she'd been sending submission packages to the same galleries I'd shown at." Eww, isn't this the plot line of All About Eve?
Exhibit E
A community art center, around which a sizeable number of artists gathered, was known for its annual juried show, an event that brought in a lot of entries, made money for the center's projects, and provided great visibility via advertising and outreach to its exhibiting artists. The community became factionalized when a second juried exhibition, with a slightly lower entry fee but none of the cachet, sprang into existence at the exact same time. The ersatz entrepreneurs drafted behind the art center's advertising and visibility. We're not talking David and Goliath, here. These were two Davids, each of which suffered as a result. (The come-lately exhibiton ceased after a couple of years, leaving divided loyalties in its wake.)
"There is lots of room in the world for artists to be successful," says one artist. Fair enough. But what is that pathological need you have to occupy the very spot where a teacher, mentor or colleague is standing and then whine, “Why can’t you be happy for my success?”

Exhibit F
On the other side of the coin, there are those who know of exhibitions, grants and other opportunities who never share that information, as if by hoarding they will secure one of the coveted prizes. I remember this from art school, when there were fewer opportunities and the (male) teachers clung ferociously to their art-world crumbs. You’d think that kind of mindset would be outdated, but just recently I learned of a colleague who intentionally gave an artist peer the wrong grant deadline, even as the real deadline was fast approaching. I called him on it (as did several others). "Less competition,” he said with a smirk. What an arrogant a-hole.
The Mini-Me Mentality
It’s my observation that the folks who have the least to offer are the ones who are most vocal in crying, Nothing is original. We should all share. Art is for everyone.Tell me, show me, give me everything you know. You can try to limit the drain by sticking with colleagues at your own professional level, but as Exhibit A suggests, that doesn't always work. Retreating into a tower isn't a viable option, especially given the ubiquity of cyberspace.

So . . . How can we share without being ripped off? And how can we take without ripping off? This post offers no answers, just examples and questions. I realize the irony here, but I hope you will share your own experiences with regard to giving and taking--and the dangers of doing too much of either.
A reminder: Anonymous comments are OK if they add to the conversation. But if you have something negative to say—to me, about the topic, to a commenter—have the courage of your convictions and identify yourself. I’m not providing a forum to cowards.
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Anonymous said...

Yes becareful there are art stalkers and personality stalkers every where you go. I have one in particular that drives me nuts! Down to copying my hair coloring!

Philip Koch said...

Joanne- again an excellent post. With the recession continuing to drag on and opportunities for artists diminished, it is a situation hardly designed to bring out the best in people. An even so, the overwhelming majority of artists remain the generous and committed souls they always were. As you say, you are describing the unpleasant exceptions.

The danger of an artist feeling her or his technique, style, methods, etc. being ripped off by another artist presents a challenge. Probably the best solution is to dive back into one's work and find ways to grow one's vision to a whole new level. Ideally one could end up with a way of painting, sculpting, etc. that is so inventive and genuine that no attempt to copy it by another can succeed.

I'm trying to imagine someone ripping off a Georgia O'Keeffe or an Edward Hopper way of working. Sure they could come up with the "look" of the originals, but few would mistake their attempts as the real thing.

Ben Stansfield said...

I have a habit of sharing information indiscriminately. I don't know of having been burned by my attitude, but I know that most of my compatriots are not as forthcoming, and I suppose the points you write about are why.

I'm also very curious about other painters techniques and processes, and ask questions, on the assumption that, even if I wanted to, I would not be able to duplicate another's work (and I don't). Most painters aren't willing to discuss it, and I respect this, but feel like there's a loss of idea exchange, since I feel like I have much to offer in return (not that anyone's listening :-)

Catherine Carter said...

I’ve recently had a number of sales through art consultants. Feeling psyched about one of these experiences in particular, I posted about it on Facebook. Immediately, I had a number of people email me to ask for the contact information of the consultants I work with. One of these emails was from a close artist friend, whom I was more than happy to give the information to. We both contact each other whenever we find opportunities that we think might be good for the other person.

But the others were either acquaintances or total strangers! At first, I thought of all the artists who have helped me in the past, with references and so on, and I felt guilty for not sharing all my information. But then I thought, “It’s taken me years of painting and sending out applications to make these contacts. Why should I simply distribute this information freely, to people I barely know or have never even met?”

I decided that what I would do would be to ignore the total strangers, but that I would send the acquaintances a link to a wonderful article that artist/author Lynn Basa wrote about working with art consultants. Anyone who reads that article carefully and follows Lynn’s advice will learn all about finding and working with consultants. I figure, this way, I’m helping others without detailing my personal experiences, which I would prefer to keep private.

It just seems strange to me that anyone would prefer to “pick someone’s brain” instead of doing their own research. There are tons of websites, books, workshops, etc., out there, filled with career advice for artists. And besides, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. We each have to find our own path.

Liz Hampton-Derivan Studio said...

Very good post. I have been a photographer since the 1980s and began doing encaustic in 2009. I have taken encaustic workshops and private lessons from five different artists, thus putting together a variety of ideas and techniques, and formulating my own. I respect the artists and what they have shared with me, and have heard at least one of them comment on "copy artists" mimicking their technique. I would most certainly want to know if anyone ever thought that of me. (Sidenote: my work is fairly representational and artists whom I learned from lean more towards abstract.) I feel fairly "new" to this medium, but have been approached by artists asking me to teach them what I know, some offering to pay and some asking me to just share my knowledge for free. I have become very selective with whom I wish to share information. I go by my gut instinct. What does this person really want? I have spent 1000s of dollars learning and setting up my studio. I have a degree in art history, and essentially years of experience in art one way or another. This last week, an artist said, "Oh I love the way you display your work (small photo-encaustic pieces). How did you do that? I'm having a show down the street from yours next month and would like to do some of my photos in wax instead of framing them." I suggested u-tube as an option for lessons. I would like to believe this was a purely innocent inquiry, and maybe I should have pointed out to this person that what they were asking of me, in my opinion, was inappropriate. On the other hand, I have a friend who needed a little encaustic background before taking a workshop we both went to and I invited her into my studio and was more than willing to share.

It is a tough economy. I don't want to share my knowledge with someone who intends to compete with me as a "copy artist". I will share with someone who just wants to learn and grow as an artist, developing their own unique style.

Interestingly, there were 4 artists taking the workshop my friend and I took recently, and everyone went away with something totally different and unique. Isn't that what most of us hope for?

I would also like to say thank you to the MANY artists who open their studio doors and share their techniques, ideas, loves and passions. To those who post blogs and share, write books and share, and my artist friends who engage in conversation and share. It is great to be a part of nurturing artist communitie(s) where there is mutual respect and sharing. For, me it becomes a matter of knowing the differece in intent (sharing = two-way street versus stealing = one way street).

Anonymous said...

Let's be honest, there is jealousy in life, in any field and art is no exception. There are givers and takers. I've been given so much - I don't think I could ever give as much as I've received. I give back by giving to charities and art auctions for causes I love. I also share with friends. I don't share with casual acquaintances unless it has nothing to do with my own field, ie. knowledge of a playwright grant to a playwright - not my field and I gladly share with strangers (playwrights). Sharing can lead to new friendships, too. It's like going back to grade school; we can buy someone candy and it *could* become a friendship or it *could* become someone wanting our candy every day. I believe in giving, even when I see my ideas on someone else's website. They can steal the one but it's still my own vision so they will fail, eventually. So I give whenever possible and when something is *taken* that I have not actually given, I distance myself from that artist. Eventually they go away and they really don't have staying power. Otherwise, we become paranoid, expecting the worse from everyone and distancing ourselves from some very good people.

Liz Hampton-Derivan Studio said...

this comment is from the other half of hampton-derivan studio (mike). excellent post, you have hit a hot button for every artist. we all have examples; probably enough to be published somewhere with the hopes that readers could see if any of their behavior applies, and change. that said, these people are usually so socially ignorant to be doing this in the first place that they'd never "get it". as an alternative to publishing examples of theft, publish the names of the thieves! with a warning "artists beware".

Carol Diehl said...

Personally, I think of myself as extracting and infusing...

And while, yes, there are such incidents (the one that made me most angry was when a visiting artist, well-known, ripped off one of my graduate students, and is still riding on the idea) I have gotten much, much more from others in the art world than I could ever give back.

Tamar said...

Great post and lively discussion.
In much of my interaction with other artists, the give and take is about the work itself, rather than focusing on marketing or exhibition opportunities. I'm always curious to learn about technical processes and open to sharing what I've done as well. I see the exchange as stirring the pot for both parties--and don't feel vulnerable to being ripped off (ideas or technique). There is so much information out there (books and on the web) for anyone willing to search for it. Kudos to Catherine Carter for sharing the blog post with advice about working with art consultants.

When I've had direct experience with a dealer or consultant who has behaved unethically, I share that so other people are less likely to get burnt. If I know that a consultant is looking for a type of work that I don't do, I try to refer other artists. Maybe I'm naive or just lucky, but being generous often leads others to do the same.

Anonymous said...

I worked in the Contract Manufacturing Buisness for a few years. The owner of the company would never let the buyers on the shop floor to see techniques ect . He was always on a War Footing, it was Us against Them. He is still in Buisness. said...

I use a particular technique that a friend suggested and I modified for my unique use. Genuinely curious people ask about it all the time and I explain it briefly because I know that even if someone tried to imitate my work, they'd never come close. Everyone's work has its own fingerprints, literally and figuratively. I also don't like being suspicious. On the other hand, stalking someone by cribbing their ideas and trying to insinuate him or herself into their social circle is really creepy. I have a friend who has to deal with that in her own family and it causes a lot of problems. As Louis Armstrong said, "If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out!"

Robin said...

Years ago I met an artist/teacher who I discovered and sought out after reading one of her books, then scheduled private painting time at her studio. I remember telling her I felt like I was copying her painting style, she told me that whatever I created would take on a direction and twist of it's own and not to worry about this learning stage of my artistic development. To this day I remember what she told me and if I can teach students's to paint in ways similar to my own hopefully it will take off in a new, unique direction. Their paintings are never going to be an exact replication of my paintings. I hope the other teachers that have guided me can see their contribution to my creative process as a reflection of their successful teaching skills rather than giving away something and feeling like they were taken advantage of.

Joanne Mattera said...

Scrolling through your answers, I'm seeing interesting phrases pop out at me:
. "unpleasant exceptions"
. "loss of idea exchange"
. "...helping others without detailing my personal experiences, which I would prefer to keep private."
. " . . . sharing = two-way street, versus stealing = one way street
."extracting and infusing"
. "Maybe I'm naive or just lucky, but being generous often leads others to do the same."
. "As Louis Armstrong said, 'If you ain't got it in you, you can't blow it out!'"

Most of my friends are artists, and the gave-and-take with them is rewarding, enlightening, supportive, challenging, earnest-- all good things. So what I describe are, indeed, the unpleasant exceptions. But it's important to acknowledge that they exist, and it's helpful to know how others have dealt/are dealing with similar issues.

Catherine's sharing of published information was smart. Not only did it offer a response to her questioner, it brought attention to the information's author, Lynn Basa, who has published a book, "The Artist's Guide to Public Art." That's a nice way for professonals to pay it out, pay it back and pay it forward all at once.

Betty Carroll Fuller said...

An excellent article. I have had experiences in the past with a close friend co opting themes I was working on and then making it seem like the concepts were her idea. I also helped this person by sharing info..not reciprocated. So now, I don't share anything with her and feel bad when an opportunity comes up (I am a gallery director/curator in addition to being an artist) but there are too many good, generous artists out there. I think being supportive of colleagues whose work you respect is very crucial but it should be a mutually respectful relationship.

J.G.Nieuwenhof said...

As I teach printmaking, I am well aware of the students who just copy my work. Forever, in the class time, I repeat that they are there to build on their own work. Alas! sometimes I will walk into an exhibition and for a fleeting moment wonder if I entered my own work as that familiar thud hits me in the chest? Several years ago I gathered a group of past/present students (adults) to form The Friday Printmakers. I found a great gallery for them to hold their first exhibition. It continues to be very successful with many sales for the Gallery Curator and the exhibitors. Her program, this year, includes another group of Printmakers just two months prior to our annual exhibition. This is the same Gallery Curator who warned us that we did not want to flood the market in our own area.This group of Printmakers will, no doubt, reap the benefits of the mailing list and I imagine, our exhibition this year, will not be as successful sales wise.When it comes to forgetting, I am a little like an elephant. What goes around comes around I say. Always protect yourself, but do it with grace and don't become one of the others, yourself. Jen

lisa said...

Great post Joanne.
the giving and taking is a delicate balance.

Recently a dealer of mine told me that she was showing "artist x" partly because artist x used my name when submitting the package. Artist x never asked me if she could use my name. I was not happy about that.

Teaching is tricky because being a good teacher is being generous.
I saw a painting of one of my students that had a familiar sensibility to it. Then I saw another one after she had been working with someone else. It looked like hers. Isn't that part of the learning process?

I guess but at some point ...very soon on, I try to urge students to find their own voice.

Eva said...

If you can make a work that is very much you, I defy someone to be able to copy it, or at least for very long. I knew one artist who said she tried copying many artists, just to see what was what (I find that weird - why bother?) and said she couldn't copy mine, which gave me satisfaction. But this same artist was truly paranoid in thinking many people were copying her! We do not own formats, colors, methods, I could go on. The challenge is owning your work so well, no one else can.

Information and opportunities, that is another thing; I will give websites, recommend, this kind of thing. But most of us must do our own writing and pay our own dues and I have no problem telling that to anyone. There are of course a few artist friends who I adore - we all should have them - that I would do anything for, turn them on to anything I could. Find a balance.

CMC said...

Exceptional post, Joanne. I can identify with something in almost every comment. I guess I am most like the naive person who will keep helping anyone who really wants help. I'm also realistic... I shy away from the ones you find are just using you.

Jessie VanderLaan said...

I am a recent MFA (2009), and this issue is particularly sticky. I was in a reasonably small and close knit grad program, and it is natural that we all feel that we are competing for the very few jobs out there. Recently, I reminded a friend of an imminent deadline for a job. She threw together the application for a job that I had been working on for days, and ended up with an interview. My immediate response was to feel jealous, and irked that had I not reminded her, she probably would have missed the application deadline. What I find most important however is to remind myself to be generous. She did not get the interview instead of me. Her application had nothing to do with mine, our work is very different, our style is very different. Her application in the mix does not negate mine. I also try to remember that by being generous, and also truly supportive and enthusiastic for my colleagues' opportunities, I am fortifying a network of successful, generous peers, who may someday be in a position to support me. Share and share alike.

Christine said...

Thank you Joanne for another thought provoking and informative post. And thanks Catherine for sharing the article by Lynn Basa...more on point information. "Anonymous" said there's jealousy out there. That's true. But one thing I've learned from reading Joanne's
MM's this last year, is that ALL OF IT takes a lot of work. If you want to be "successful" (whatever that means to you) it takes consistent work in the studio and an equal amount of work in educating yourself about what the right route is for your work to reach its audience and then working diligently towards that goal on many fronts(networkng, research, promotional materials etc). When i feel the green-eyed monster coming on as others post about their shows, exhibits etc I really try to remind myself that nothing is just falling into anyone's lap. Things are happening because these artists are making things happen.
Re the "copying"...Lisa, it's true that students first "trys" as they learn a new technique, can mimic the teacher's...I do think that's part of the learning process. But the more difficult part is then taking that knowledge and figuring out how that method, technique, that "new stuff", can better help you say what you want to say in your own work; how to incorporate whatever "it" become an integral and unique aspect of your own work. Sometimes it all floats along inside of me for a while until it comes together in a new body of work that combines the old and the new...
I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I understand the impulse to want a "shortcut"....and don't respect someone who copies or takes (esp if aware of this), but ultimately don't know how far one goes on that. To move forward it really comes down to work work, and then more work after that.

Victoria Webb said...

Great post. I recently attended a local arts salon that was set up last year. Artists, critics and curators are invited to a different artist's studio on a monthly basis to share techniques, process and talk constructively about the work in a protective forum.

It was a wonderful experience, and all of the artists involved were generous and thoughtful. The event challenges the artist, enables us to share ideas and to form community in the process.

That's a positive outcome, but what was interesting is that most of these artists are young. The oldest of us were three women. I did speculate that older male artists might not be as comfortable sharing their methodologies or revealing techniques. Could the idea of keeping one's process close to the vest be an age and/or gender related issue?

On the other hand, haven't artists always 'taken' from each other? Sharing without being ripped off is relative- don't we see Braque in Picasso and vice versa?

I liked what one young artist said on the studio tour; 'Don't you always think, I can beat that?" His point was that while he might be inspired by someone's work, he would want to go further in his own process.

Oriane Stender said...

Great topic, Joanne. I had one experience where I felt ripped off by a colleague, in both concept and technique. It went on for quite a long time and this artist became more successful with his work than I am with mine and, yes, I have some bitterness about it. I did have a gut feeling early on that this person was an opportunist, a bit of a user, but I was inexperienced and didn't realize exactly what could go wrong. I decided to work with him despite my apprehensions. Was it a good decision? Well, I got some good things from working with him and he took some things from me, and they were not the things I would have chosen to "give". I can't wrap up with any words of wisdom from the experience because I still have unresolved feelings about it.

Kate said...

I share opportunities with fellow artists... by posting on FB or emailing them directly if it is a specific match. I also look for opportunities to match curators with artists.

There have been a few artists I think are brilliant and deserve much more attention,and I have become their champions... I really don't care if they ever "pay me back", I do it for a larger purpose.

I appreciate, but do not "expect" reciprocity, although I do have friends who are very matter of fact about it.

A curator once damaged one of my pieces during an installation... because she had already told me she was going to include one of my works in her upcoming book, I let it slide, where I might have made a claim for reimbursement otherwise... I was not included in the book. I thought it was one of those tacit understandings, but it was not.

Adrienne Moumin said...

Thank you for this (as always) well-written and trenchant article, Joanne.

It occurs to me that this is yet another area where artists are expected to "give it away for free" and may be looked on as selfish if they don't comply. We owe it to ourselves to protect our careers as artists, if we regard ourselves with any seriousness at all.

I recently had the experience of someone using my project name as their own for an exhibit, (mine is for an ongoing series began in 2003), which felt like a subtle but definite boundary violation.

It irked me for awhile, until I was able to, quite literally, "consider the source." I mentally reviewed my own, and this artist's, relative creative output and commercial success. I suddenly realized there was little threat there, and feel a bit sorry for the poor thing, having to resort to such behavior.

Wendy Edsall-Kerwin said...

I took a workshop a number of years ago and while waiting in line at the school store to purchase supplies another student was in there buying up practically ever tutorial book in the shop. She was new to metalworking (as she mentioned in the intros having recently having to retire form her profession.) The cashier joked saying she should leave some books for the other students and the woman replied that she was going to start teaching workshops.
Really?! You're going to read a book and immediately start teaching others what you only just learned yourself? For money?
When I started teaching I made sure that my workshop was not the same as the one I had originally taken, I don't shop it out to the same area as where my original teacher teaches. It's only proper not to step all over those people who helped you get where you are today.

Oriane Stender said...

Adrienne, that boundary violation doesn't sound so subtle to me, unless the title was something like "New Work." Is it a title that s/he definitely got from you? But you're right, "consider the source" is generally a good thing to do before reacting.

Joanne Mattera said...

So much to comment on, so I will just stick with the last few posts:
. Wendy mentioned the woman who bought a bunch of books in preparation of teaching workshops. This is all too common, alas. What happens is that a hobby mentality pervades an entire stratum of artists and work in a particular medium.
. Kate, you are a generous person and a talented artist. I just hope you aren't taken advantage of by those who have less of either quality you possess.
. Oriane and Adrienne: It seems to me that establishing boundaries early on, when the person or project is of no professional consequence, will serve you well when another person or project of more conequence comes along. What you're doing is establishing a precedent. Sure, you may seen as a bitch (what women are called) or powerful (what men are called) or some hybrid of the two (want to call be a powerful bitch? fine.
. Christine: You nailed it with the "shortcut" issue.

Hylla Evans said...

Does it all come down to knowing who we are dealing with before opening a vein for them? When artists ask technique questions in a gallery opening, I find that inappropriate. It's better to ask, "Do you teach technique" and then schedule and pay for a class but don't ask for it for free.
Friends share and asking is fine but we can be respectful if a friend politely turns down a request for information. Understand that she may have been burned in the past.
I am horrified when novices teach, even at the community center level. Stealing a syllabus or language or an exact supply list is patently wrong. Paraphrasing concepts is fine, but give credit where it's due. That's the mark of a professional.
Lisa, YES, teaching means sharing generously.
A good teacher isn't teaching how to do her own technique as much as she's there to help each artist develop her own repertoire. The class is more about the students than the teacher, isn't it?
The best teachers are the ones with teaching experience in addition to knowledge of the subject at hand. I hear unbelievable stories of bad teaching, selfish teachers, wrong information.
Mike suggests publishing the names of those who do wrong. Really, we all do share that information. In this size community anyone who thinks negative information remains secret is kidding herself.

Dora Ficher said...

What a great post Joanne!
I think that the bottom line is competition and jelousy. It is so hard for many accept the success of others and be happy for them. We live in such a competitive world that it makes everyone feel like they have to be better, smarter, more successful, etc...etc...It's exhausting. Because of this, many people are so needy, they want attention...and they think that if this or that "artist" is doing this and getting lots of attention, sales....etc...then maybe I should try to do this and that. You will never find your own voice that need to relax, enjoy the process and do what feel good to you...using all the technics that you have learned.

lucy mink said...

I used to teach small children art it was about sharing, not copying each other and not rushing to finish your work, I taught in a way that encouraged them to work over longer periods of time. I think its an important thing as an artist to learn and I think its good to teach this at a young age. Kids can move fast in Gym class, I wanted art to be a place where your mind could wander a bit. As far as in the grown up world I continue to do what I can, I had a wonderful painter help me in Syracuse and I am constantly wanting to help those who are passionate about what they are doing. I love what Eva said "If you can make a work that is very much you, I defy someone to be able to copy it, or at least for very long."

Great post Joanne!

Terri Miller said...

Great article, Joanne, and some really great comments.

I'm both a painter and photographer, and my photography is based on a niche market of equestrian sports. Several years ago, a group of us pros thought that it would be a wonderful idea to start a network that allowed us to share techniques, business practices and the like. As the group grew and began to accept less experienced photographers into the fold (with the intended purpose of creating some consistency in business practices throughout the industry) we realized that the generosity of the older pros was being taken advantage of. The newbies started setting up shop in our neighborhoods, using the knowledge that we had shared, competing with us for market share. The pros all left the group, leaving the newbies to share with each other, but the damage was done, a case of the law of unintended consequences.

Having said that, we are in a period of knowledge sharing that has never before been seen on the planet. If I post something new and exciting on my blog or on Facebook, I can be pretty sure that other artists and photographers will be reverse engineering what I posted in order to incorporate it into their own work - as I find myself doing exactly the same thing when I see work posted that I appreciate. I see a proliferation of works using techniques, subject matter and approach that a few years ago were the domain of particular artists. Each time I post a piece of work, I know it's a tradeoff between promoting the work and handing off hard-won knowledge to the "universe" of other artists.

Will this become a race to the bottom in the aspects of pricing and worth of artwork? Or is it a race to the top in a worldwide blossoming of creativity?

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for this great post, Joanne, and thanks also to all who made the insightful comments. I'm sure that all practicing artists must come up against these concerns. Walking the line between generously sharing your knowledge and shooting yourself in the pocketbook is difficult to determine. I have usually tried to share what I know with other artists but if I don't get reciprocity, I stop sharing. It can't be all take and no give.

Terri Miller's description of her experience rings true to me after belonging to a group where the pros and the newbies came together. It's a difficult problem to blend those two groups because the pros don't want to be brought down and the newbies don't realize they need to be brought up. Collegiality is fine in theory but in practice there are a lot of thorns and thorny relationships. When I have found artists who are true friends and are willing to both give and take, I try to keep them because we become important factors in each other's lives in validating our progress and accomplishments and in giving each other encouragement for the long slog. Finding such friends takes trial and error but the result is a much richer life.

mogodbeer said...

I was pretty suprised to find out a certain "friend' had offered to teach a workshop I was already booked in to do. In fact she was so insistent that the organiser of the workshop had to state pretty firmly that they were very happy with me and that they wouldnt be calling her. It was sad because I had thought of this person as a friend. I had previously heard her on numerous occasions bleating about how someone had stolen her ideas and maybe I should have heard the alarm bells ringing then. But I am a pretty trusting person and I like to share opportunities and ideas. I don't want this experience to alter how i feel about that. I suppose you have to learn to recognise the bad appples and share with the good ones. Since then she has moved onto to leech off another person so I am now leech free.

Anonymous said...

I am a pleine aire painter who worked in the woods and on the streets of the Hudson Valley for a couple of decades, developing my "voice". I recently moved to Kansas. I've taught workshops, etc, and shown and sold my work extensively.
One of the last times I was painting on the street in Kingston, NY, a young girl came up to me and said, "I'm an artist too! I love your style- I'm going to steal it!" To say I was irritated would be a serious understatement.
It felt like an inferior cover band was going to be playing my music without giving credit. It reduced decades of effort and care to the "consumable products" level of a knock-off handbag.
I am all for sharing. One of my joys as a painter is to go painting with friends, set up easels side by side, paint the same subject matter, and come up with two entirely different things. The developing artist's voice in process is what matters, not the product of that development.
Copycats turn the entire point of making art on its head, rendering the fewmets more important than the dragons that produce them, and in their eagerness to convert art to product, they feed the muse to the sociopathic merchant-machine culture that creatives have been seeking to transcend from the beginning of time.

Anonymous said...

Picasso and Matisse stole ideas from on another every studio visit. There's a compelling book about it.

Joanne Mattera said...

Anon: Precisely. And they kept visiting each other's studios. There was something good going on, something reciprocal, a wonderful example of "giving and taking." Picasso's and Braque's guitars are virtually indistinguishable, but they knew they were onto something, which turned out to be Cubism.

Ravenna Taylor said...

This is a great post, and the comments too are helpful to read. I guess we've all had some parallel experience -- even someone like me, who is pretty invisible although I've been working at developing my imagery and techniques for decades. I have shared technical info, giving and taking; I never think that work ought to depend upon technique alone. I will be more thoughtful about raising technical questions in the future though. I have had the experience of an artist visiting my studio, lifting an idea from my work, which has come through authentic avenues of exploration, using it in his or her work, and then getting it shown (because I'm better at doing my work than at getting out where people can see it, I acknowledge that). It's infuriating, but in each case I have wondered if the perpetrator were even aware of how directly he or she had ripped me off; that lack of self-awareness is what makes it necessary for them, I think. I know I just have to keep making what I make, being what I am -- and I need to develop those skills of getting the work out where it will be seen! I might die unknown to anyone but myself otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I sold a piece to someone who probably dismantled it, made terrible likenesses and got a solo show at the same gallery. I went to see her show to introduce myself, and walked away speechless .. and very sad.
I 'll share anything with friends and people who ring true; after reading this interesting post, I'll feel better about avoiding leeches.
Trust your gut and trust yourself. Some one can copy your style, but they can't repeat your vision.

Burgundy and Moss said...

Such a great article Joanne! I am reminded of a quote from the film "The Red Shoes" where a young conductor is stolen from by his own professor. The young conductor is told: "It is worth remembering, that it is much more disheartening to have to steal than to be stolen from, hmmm?" This has really stuck with me as I finish off my graduate degree in Painting.