Now, you know I’m a big fan of the Gram.
It’s to a great place to put your work out for the world to see.
What makes me kind of sad though, is when I see work out there of dubious origin.
I clicked on a post in my Instagram feed recently, thinking I’d missed a painting by one of my favourite artists. It certainly looked like her work, but it wasn’t. When I say it looked like her work, I don’t mean I thought it looked like something she might paint: no, I thought she was reposting a previous painting.
Not only was this painting very similar (a landscape in oils), but the same person had also just posted work that looked almost identical to some new and very different work my favourite artist had recently released (abstract mixed media). Coincidence?
Looking further back through her feed, it wasn’t clear how she’d arrived at these paintings; not an evident evolving style, not a body of work. Just a few paintings early on that don’t appear to bear resemblance to their newer work.
Sometimes you do see artists with very similar aesthetics. Usually there’ll be a particular series or point in time where their style will seem similar, presumably in response to current trends. But there will be a solid body of work over a longer period of time that doesn’t resemble anyone’s art but their own, even if they are inspired and influenced by their favourite artists.
And my own Instagram feed does not tell the full story of my own artistic journey, because I tend to curate my feed, and I don’t want crap I painted two years ago hanging around.
But I do keep everything I painted. And my blog is a record of some of my process. It’s good to pull it all out sometimes and remember how far you’ve come.
I know that feeling, that longing to create good work, to get better. To be desperate to paint your vision. I still feel that now! When I was learning, I did copies of other artists work – and credited them properly. There’s a couple of my Instagram feed, credited to David Atkins and Bob Rohm.
Studying and copying, yes, copying, are perfectly valid forms of learning, particularly for beginners. Copying your favourite painting is brilliant for understanding decisions another artist made in terms of composition and colour. Follow along tutorials are another form of copying, all great for getting you going. And recently one of my IG friends (a brilliant painter) commented she was so frazzled she painted a study of one of her favourite artists, so she could just paint and not worry about all the other stuff, so she could be soothed by the act of painting. This is the beauty of art – that it can enrich people in ways other things can’t.
Then there is the baaaddd sort of copying. Like the sort of thing I saw on Instagram, captioned not with “a study I did of blah blah blahs painting” , but just sort of passed off as their own with some trite ” just a little painting I did today!!!” in the comments.
There’s been a flurry of words around this on Instagram this week – check out Emily Jeffords, she puts this delicate issue across so well, not to berate people but to point out that in copying others, we deprive ourselves and our audience.
I agree. And I also come back to this post I wrote a while ago after reading Ian Roberts. No one can be original. There is no such thing as originality – it’s all been done before. But, authenticity. That’s a different thing.
Authenticity does not come from being dazzled by what everyone else is doing on Instagram. It is not to be found externally.
Authenticity comes from keeping records, journals, sketchbooks and observing.
It comes from making mistakes, exploring, playing, changing things up.
It comes from doing the work, not waiting for inspiration.
Authenticity comes from within. It is an internal process: listening to yourself. Your fears, your hopes, your vulnerabilities. They will shape your art, along with your creative process. And this will give your work a truth that will shine through, and others will see what you see. And you will be an artist.