Grand Theft Art?

You come up with a fabulous technique. It's so great, you can't wait to tell everyone about it. You go around posting to all the Yahoo groups you belong to, happily sharing your technique and examples with everyone who will listen. You see a few people try it, email you with how great the technique is, thank you for being the master wizard of art, and your ego begins to grow so big you won't possibly fit through the door tomorrow.

You continue working with your newly "invented" technique. You even begin to create a class around teaching your new technique. You're kind of mad at yourself for posting it all over the place in your excitement...but those other artists are "friends", right? It's fine, you decide. Nothing will happen to your new technique - besides, everyone knows you created it.

Your new Cloth Paper Scissors arrives. Ahhh life is sweet! You happily begin flipping through it...when it happens. You come across a page where the work seems strangely familiar. Looking more closely you realize someone else has written an article about your technique - the one you created. The technique you were going to teach in a class. You continue reading in total disbelief. Surely the person will credit you - or at least mention you - right? Nope. The article concludes, examples extremely similar to what you first created with the technique are shown, and there is not one mention of you. How could this happen??

That is a question a lot of artists find themselves asking. As the Internet grows, and groups made up of people with common interests form, information is shared more freely. Blogs and websites are created so people can share their lives, interests, and passions. People who wouldn't normally find each other, due to location or a myriad of other reasons, have linked up and formed friendships and exchanged information. Does that mean sharing what you've learned from these groups or relationships, goes against the creative code of ethics and morals? Do you need to find out who created every single technique you use, and credit each of those people whenever you create something?

Most artists would say no. However, and this is an important however, there most definitely is a line. Finding out who created a common, well-known technique is ridiculous. No one expects that. Publishing an article that introduces a new technique is a totally different monster. Which is a problem for any artist who "invents" a new technique - and either freely shares it with those in art groups, or teaches classes about it. You see, artists can "invent" a hundred different brilliant, earth-shattering, life-changing techniques...and can't copyright one of them. You can protect a piece of art - but you cannot protect ideas. And that has a lot of artists fuming. Including me.

Without "outing" the person who submitted my idea to Cloth Paper Scissors, I will just say that another artist wrote an article several years ago, describing and identifying a technique I came up with. That may sound ridiculous to some of do you know she didn't just stumble across the same idea? Well, I know she didn't because we discussed my idea - and she came to me with questions about it. I helped guide her through it. Don't get me wrong - I was happy to do it. Until I saw the article. I felt betrayed - and totally infuriated. I realize I don't "own" the technique - but to not even mention me was like a slap in the face.

I stopped speaking to that artist immediately. Funny thing is, I never received another email from her, either. She knows exactly what she did. (Can you tell this still upsets me??)

I haven't brought this up until now because I still seethe every time I think about that whole situation. I decided to bring it up now after seeing another artist post a note in a message board about it. Apparently, she was confronted with the same issue upon opening a copy of Quilting Arts recently. Her anger was palpable as she "thanked" the person who had taken a class from her, learned a technique this artist only teaches in her class, and then wrote an article about said technique, passing it off as her own.

Some of you may be reading this saying to yourself, "Well, the author of this article paid to take a class from this artist, so the technique now belongs to her as well." I won't pretend to know what the legalities are of that situation...but I will say, from the viewpoint of another artist (me), what the article's author did is just plain WRONG. She would not have had that knowledge without taking the class - and the artist supports herself (in part) from teaching that technique to paying students. The author did not seek permission from the artist - nor did she mention where she learned the technique. To the reader it appeared the author came up with the technique. The artist is extremely angry - just think about the monies this artist lost out on due to widespread publication of her technique.

I'm all for the artistic community lending each other a hand, sharing ideas, and collaborating on projects. I'm also all for giving credit where credit is due. Why pass off something as yours when it isn't? Isn't that the same as stealing?

A lot of us make similar items. It's no secret how to use PMC, watercolors, or gel medium. But as a community, don't we owe it to each other to be respectful of anothers ideology?

I'm very curious to hear what my readers think of this issue. Is it morally or ethically wrong to pass off some one's technique as your own? Or is it too bad, so sad - ideas are not "property" and therefore cannot be attributed to a single person? Which side of this issue to do stand on?

Please comment and let me know. I can't wait to read your response!

6 Royal Responses:

SSM said...

I know how frustrated this problem can be. If I was using a technique I know I borrowed I'd give the "original" artist whom I first saw the technique the credit. It is true that many great ideas come from many artists at the same times. If I were you, as soon as you've made up a new technique post it online and say it is your idea on such and such a date. You should be given credit when it is due.
Good luck in this pain in the neck problem.

One Creative Queen said...

Thank you so much for your comment. It's interesting to hear how others have handled/would handle this situation. I appreciate you sharing your insight!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by my OWOH giveaway...I saw this post as I was poking around on your blog and it saddens me because I do think that if you learned something from someone else then you should give them credit. The person stole your idea and the person in that quilting class, stole an idea as well IMO.

There is a fine line but I think that we all know when we have crossed it and we should be more mindful.

Lovely blog and lovely work, keep creating as those without a creative thought can't steal forever. ;)

Peace and Blessings!

Zeborah Loray said...

In the situation yoou described, yes, I do think the artist should have mentioned that she first learned of the technique from you.
That would have been polite.

But I've found that often people come up with the same or very similar techniques on their own.
I've had people post about the new technique they just discovered on there own and realize it was something I had posted about three years before on a website I'm pretty sure they would never have stumbled across.

I've also been messing around in my studio, come up with something new to me, that I figured out on my own- only to discover that most other people were quite familiar with the technique and had been doing it for years.

And sometimes even a slight variation on a technique will take it in a whole new direction and give it validity.

I try to give credit to people who inspire me when I use a technique I learned from them- even when what I do with the technique might be in such a different style that it would not be readily recognized. I try to be polite.

But I often don't really remember where I saw something- or who posted it or what website I might have been looking at. Sometimes I don't even realize that something I've done is based on something I saw somewhere. We all see so much artwork that some of it will become part of your subconscious artistic process and you aren't necessarily copying someone's work intentionally.
I've done pieces I really loved- and then gone to look at a friend's blog and realized that the piece I just did bears a remarkable resemblance to something they posted a week ago. Something I had admired and praised. That doesn't mean I consciously copied it. Our brains are strange things. Our muse might remember things we have forgotten. ;)

I try never to assume that someone has intentionally copied anthing of mine- no matter how close in appearance to my work it is- and no matter how soon after I posted my technique/art piece. I have no way of truly knowing if they even saw my work. Just because I posted to a group they are on doesn't mean they looked at it.

There are a lot of angles to this question.


Hi Katherine
I've had this happen several times with a so called friend and by others I know nothing or little off.The first time it was blatent theft to me...kind e-mails asking me to explain how to do it and send instructions,supply lists etc only to have it end up on the front page of a craft mag here in Australia.I'm a kind and generous person but all I needed when I saw that was writen credit.Never spoke to that lady again.
The others I have not been so sure on....was it really taken,did they discover the same thing and not know I had already done it,had they subconsciously absorbed something I had given them info about and forgot where they saw it or that it was my tech to begin with etc etc.Sure I still felt disappointed but I choose to leave it be and just get over it...hope you can too.Don't waste time on it as it will affect your creativity and eat you up...get creative,be inspiring(as your blog shows you def are)and remain the kind generous person you are
Annette In Oz

nearsighted said...

I can understand that!!!!!....
Theft is always been annoying and frustrating. I have had some scenarios when i was in8th grade.
Many of my friends used to take my work. :/

Thanks for sharing

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