By Creative Contributor: Seth Apter
The following images are from Seth's personal collection and clickable for enlarged viewing.
In the world of mixed media, there are many themes that seem to periodically reappear on the blogs. And usually when an issue is revisited over and over again, it is most likely a controversial subject. One of these topics is art and originality. Or, in less politically correct terms, copying. This is a sensitive subject for many people as it reaches to the very core of being an artist. But I think that this is a complicated and confusing issue as well. Just how do we know when we have crossed over into “the copy zone?”
I imagine that there are as many opinions on this subject as there are artists in the world. Just how do we define copying? For example, is it copying if somebody purposely emulates the style of another artist as a way to learn a technique or try a new product? Or does it become copying if that person then puts that artwork up for sale? Is it copying if somebody follows a teacher step-by-step while in a workshop? Or does it become copying if that person then teaches that same technique in their own class? In both cases, perhaps it crosses into the copy zone only if that person consciously states that they are the originator of the style or technique.
And what about images? Many objects seem to be ubiquitous in the mixed media world: birds, trees, wings, nests, women’s faces, hats, crowns, and hearts, to name a few. Does that mean that any use of these images is copying? Can anybody actually say who was the first person to use any of these objects? Now take it one step further. What about using these images in a very particular way? For example, babies with wings and hats? Trees with branches and no leaves? Birds perched on a wire? Are we now crossing over into the copy zone? Does anybody actually own the copyright to these particular ideas?
These issues touch on another topic that periodically makes the rounds among the blog community: art versus craft. For many people, craft is defined as an activity that follows a step-by-step recipe and leads to a similar, if not identical, creation. In contrast, art is often considered more of a unique process in which the contribution of the individual artist surpasses the ingredients used. So does that mean that by definition, copying cannot occur in the world of craft?
The intention of this essay is not meant to answer these questions but rather to raise them. By initiating conversation and raising awareness, we can all become more sensitive to this issue. Perhaps the answers to these questions are not so clear-cut, except of course at the extreme when an individual blatantly and knowingly plagiarizes. For me, one of the pleasures of being an artist is the fact that ideas that come from others are automatically filtered through one’s own creativity, approach, skill level, inner emotions, artistic style, and the like. The question then becomes: just why would anybody want to enter the copy zone in the first place?
Seth Apter is a mixed-media artist from New York City, focused primarily on paper arts, book arts, and textural assemblage. Using layers of paper, paint, ink, text, transfers, found metal, and other altered objects, he creates highly textured and distressed artworks.
His work has been highlighted on multiple websites and published in books, national magazines, and independent zines. His blog, The Altered Page, is a visual journal of his own artwork, photography, and collaborations, as well as a showcase for artists he admires and his creative experiences in NYC.
Blog: The Altered Page
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