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The Art of Copying

"Good artists copy, great artists steal" by Pablo Picasso

There are claims that Damien Hirst stole the idea of spot paintings from another artist. The concept of painting grids of spots with random colors was initially explored by Thomas Downing, an American artist. Hirst’s career began in 1988 at the Frieze exhibition, where he presented his own version of spot paintings. Hirst himself has admitted that many of his ideas are not original, stating that he was taught to “steal” ideas during his time at Goldsmiths by his tutor, Michael Craig-Martin. This admission aligns with the accusations that Hirst’s spot paintings were influenced by Downing’s earlier work.

However, I recently went to see an exhibition “Expressionism” at Tate Modern in London, where I saw the color theory book illustrations by Michel-Eugène Chevreul. Given that Chevreul’s color illustrations resemble the systematic approach seen in spot paintings, it is plausible that Downing, known for his abstract works featuring grids of colored spots, could have drawn inspiration from Chevreul’s theories.

What Does "Good Artists Copy" Mean?

Copying involves taking inspiration from existing works and reproducing them. This is often seen as a surface-level imitation where the original essence remains intact. However, great artists steal. Stealing, in this context, means absorbing and deeply understanding the essence of the source material and then reinterpreting it in a way that transforms it into something completely new and personal. Great artists take the core ideas and elements from various influences and blend them seamlessly into their own creative vision, making it uniquely theirs.

The idea is that true creativity involves more than just replication; it involves a profound transformation of ideas to create original works that bear the artist’s unique signature and vision.

Did You Know About Shakespeare?

Even William Shakespeare often borrowed and adapted plots from other writers. It is widely acknowledged that Shakespeare drew heavily on existing works for the plots of many of his plays. For instance, he used historical accounts, classical literature, and earlier plays as sources of inspiration.

While this practice might seem like plagiarism today, it was a common and accepted method in the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare’s genius lay in his ability to transform these borrowed elements into something uniquely his own, adding depth, complexity, and new dimensions to the stories.

For example, “Romeo and Juliet” was based on an earlier poem by Arthur Brooke called “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet,” and “Hamlet” was influenced by the earlier play “Amleth” by Saxo Grammaticus.

Thus, while Shakespeare did copy the work of other writers, he did so in a way that showcased his own creative genius and contributed to the lasting legacy of his plays.

It’s interesting to see how human perceptions of plagiarism have evolved over time. What was acceptable in the past is often frowned upon nowadays. Impressionist painters were initially mocked when they first emerged. Street artists were once seen as vandals, but figures like Banksy have elevated their work to art. AI art is still controversial, but could it be possible to be featured in major museums in the future or face legal restrictions?

What Do You Think About the Art of Copying?

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