June 2010

So I realized that this is my first post in a while.  I’ve been studying obstacles to creativity. More accurately, they’ve been smacking me in the face in the last couple of weeks. I’ve decided that while my new exercise commitment is helping with my stress, some things you just can’t avoid.

Bits and Pieces VII, 24x60

Bits and Pieces VII, 24x60

Not that I haven’t been productive. I have finished a few paintings, a commission and packed up work to get off to Julie Nester Gallery for my show in July.  But I haven’t exactly been in the most positive frame of mind while doing it.  I think the paintings I have finished are good, maybe some of the best work I’ve done in a while, but I am having a hard time sitting back and enjoying it without also steeping in some of the day to day stress that is my life right now.

So, what do you do to leap over the obstacles that impede your creativity? Serious and not so serious answers welcome.


There are a few artists out there suffering from an illness: Copycatilism.  That’s right, I just made that up but I’ll bet you know exactly what I am talking about. Symptoms include: laziness, lack of imagination, tendency to spend hours looking at other artist’s work, and the click of the mouse to save images for later use.  Those infected may also lean towards tracing, transposing, and photoshop tweaking to disguise their symptoms.

Copying happens for several reasons in my mind. You have the student variety, a student is taking a workshop or class and suddenly the student’s work looks like the instructor’s work. This is natural and excusable if the student moves on and graduates to their own version and work once the instruction time is over.  Then there’s the, I’m just experimenting variety.  This is usually a weekend artist that sees something they like and they try it on for size. Maybe they completely copy the image or they change the palette to match their sofa. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but they like something and they want their own version of it and never intend to do anything with it other than hang it in their house. Which bring us to the more insidious kind of copier, the I came up with it myself kind.  This is the person that emulates and tries to own someone else’s work.  This is the person infected with Copycatilism.

I’ve been exposed to people infected with Copycatilism as have many of my artist friends.  A few years ago I had a workshop co-participant ask to use my ink because she liked my custom mixed palette and loved my imagery so could she use my stencils too?  AWK-ward. She managed to create a color palette like mine anyway, and copied my imagery, along with my compositions and image size. She was so proud of her “new” work. I started to think I was crazy, that I was imagining that she completely copied me, how could this happen in a workshop in front of other people??? Until another participant came up to me a whispered that this woman must like my work so much she decided to copy me.  My stomach turned inside out. I almost skipped the last day of the workshop.  This copy cat contacted me a short time later so that we could “work together.” I tried to be kind and compassionate but I did tell her that she needed to be aware of what she was really doing.  I never heard from her again.

That’s an obvious case of copying but what about when you aren’t sure? My take is that your gut is sure. If you see a work out that looks enough like your own that a bell goes off internally, there’s a good chance you got copied. Sadly, the internet has made all of this quite easy to do. It also makes it easier to see when you may have been copied since it seems we are all connected now via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and the like. Not to mention that if you don’t see it yourself someone you know may see it and let you know.

Some things are not really copying though. Like a friend said the other day, “I just invented the circle now if anyone else uses it I’ll know they copied me.” She was of course being sarcastic. There are iconic images, shapes and styles that just aren’t copying.  Like a circle, certain images are so widely used that it doesn’t amount to copying. Now if the color palette, size of the work, material, texture and the like are the same, then that increases the likelihood that it is a copy.  I have a painter friend who was alerted to a series another artist created chronologically after hers that was so similar that when I saw the work there was no mistaking that she had been copied. It was so obvious it was disgusting.

Some say that if you’ve been copied you’ve arrived, that it is flattering. I don’t really see it that way although I understand the perspective. It’s one thing to try another artist’s technique as an experiment, but once an artist claims someone else’s imagery as their own original idea they have crossed a line. I don’t think there are very many of us out there making art that is entirely original, myself included, but I do think that artists need to make sure that their ideas are fresh and not someone else’s worked over. Or not even worked over in some cases. In the meantime, pray for a cure.

Don’t worry, it’s not as ominous as it may sound.  I hear a lot about artists looking at galleries, watching where other artists show, seeking opportunities to show in alternative spaces and so on. Artists are always on the lookout to get their work shown. What I think artists forget is that gallery owners and the people that work for them are always looking at art too. While not all gallerists admit it, most are watching for new and interesting artists.

How do I know this? In part because I used to work at a gallery.  We were constantly looking at art, and that was back in the day when no one thought it was necessary to have a website. That’s right, who in their right mind would say that now? We kept show cards, looked at galleries on our travels, went to art shows, MFA shows and art festivals.  We were always looking at art.  I mean really, if you sell art then you probably love art, spend a lot of time around art and artists and you keep your eyes open. When we found an artist we felt was a standout we would contact them regarding their work.  Perhaps it was to show at a themed show, for a particular project or longer term representation, but the relationship was not initiated by the artist.  We were aware of artists that weren’t necessarily aware of the gallery.

Another case in point: a friend called me today to tell me that she was contacted by a gallery that she thought had dismissed her work.  An initial conversation had taken place many months ago that appeared to go no where. She had thought the gallery simply wasn’t interested, but then just recently they called her and in fact had been visiting her website. They still liked the work, and now she is shipping a painting to the gallery and the relationship is moving to the next step.

An installation shot of my show at Page Bond Gallery
An installation shot of my show at Page Bond Gallery

I bring this up because I think all too often artists get discouraged.  Sometimes we think that if a gallery doesn’t jump at the chance to show our work at the first introduction that the door has closed. Not necessarily, and now with social media changing the way we interact, galleries have numerous opportunities to look at work in a less formal manner than ever before. Galleries are at art fairs, looking at the art shown by other galleries.  Gallery owners go to other galleries and if you are showing your work, chances are other gallerists have seen your work. Even better, maybe they like your work and are watching your career from afar.

So how do you prepare for this?

  • Keep you best foot forward. This means on your website, on social media sites, at galleries, at openings and when you meet new people, especially in the art business. You never know who someone may know that opens the next door for you. Not that you want to be fake to get an opportunity, I am not recommending this, but be kind and polite and treat people you meet with respect.
  • Update your website regularly. If you knew a particular gallery was visiting your website every 6 months or so, would you want them to see more of the same every visit? Have you updated the text pages to reflect that your next opening is next month, not in January 2008?  It’s a small detail perhaps but one that galleries pay attention to so make sure you have your website in order with correct and updated information.
  • When a gallery asks you to follow up with them about your work, do it. The comment isn’t intended to let you down easy, the gallery owner wants to be reminded of your work and progress without having to think about tracking you themselves. You aren’t being a pest if you send them a show card in 6 months, or if you drop them an email to let them know about an upcoming show. Make it easy for them with a link to the site, your website and remind them that they asked you to follow up with them. When I worked at the gallery, we asked artists to keep us updated on their work but surprisingly very few did.

No one can deny that the art world is changing. Whether the economy is the reason, or social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, or the burst of art fairs around the country, the way galleries and artists meet has changed from even 10 years ago. Change with it because you never know when someone might be watching, and I mean that in the best way possible.