I have taught art most of my life, and in the art world, there is a great deal of borrowing. We artists like to think of ourelves as being totally creative, as being vessels filled with completely authentic ideas and techniques, but unless an artist has lived alone in a cave, that cannot be the case.
Artists see other peoples’ art. Writers read other peoples’ writing. Musicians hear other people’s music, and film makers experience other peoples’ films. Whether they realize it or not, all artists are influenced by others.
For a long time, this bothered me, and I tried to cover my tracks. I tried to camouflage the ways that other artists had made their marks on me. It was a great day when I accepted the fact that all of the old masters borrowed from other artists. At early ages, the great Renaissance artists were apprenticed to master painters or sculptors, and they spent years learning to duplicate the marks of the master. In fact, the masters often signed works that had been produced by one of their apprentices. In this regard, the great Renaissance artists began their careers on creative credit.
To begin a career on credit–whether it be creative credit or not–might be okay, but at some point, the artist must break away from the master. Lest he continue life working with a cookie cutter, the artist must eventually develop his own look or voice or sound–he must create his brand or his signature style, and in doing so, the would-be artist is separated from the wannabes.
Just because someone will lend money to you doesn’t mean you should borrow it. – Jean Chatzky
I’m sure that I am not alone in this, but I receive at least one free credit card offer each day. It took a while for me to realize this, but my receiving the blank cards does not mean that I should accept the credit. I learned the hard way that the fact that people offer money does not mean that they actually want to give it away. It doesn’t even mean that they want to loan it to you. There is usually an ulterior motive, and there is always a time for payback–in one way or another.
In the art worlds, when artists continue to borrow from other artists, they become creative cripples. That is the payback for borrowers in the art world.
When an artist begins to branch out and to try new things, new colors, new sounds, new words, he begins to break free from the shackles that would hold him back and he begins to develop his own style.
The products of effective creativity do not have to be expensive. In fact, good art may be as free as the graffiti on a subway wall. The price tag does not distinguish good art from bad. People will continue to sell what they have borrowed. Complete garbage will continue to sell, but that does not make it art.
In the final analysis, artists should not feel ashamed because they began their creative lives borrowing from others–even from nature itself–but they must embrace the day that they can begin to walk alone.
A poet ought not to pick nature’s pocket. Let him borrow, and so borrow as to repay by the very act of borrowing. Examine nature accurately, but write from recollection, and trust more to the imagination than the memory. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
©Jacki Kellum April 24, 2016