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#30×30 Day 18 : In the Fog of Art

June 18, 2021

Here is another experiment in my quest for watery effects!

I’m not sure how much there is to say about this :) It’s in some ways a very simple painting. Almost no color, and almost no drawing. Just a matter of splashing down the pigments. And I suppose, knowing how the water will move.

The art here is more about knowing what composition you want – here it is a graphic diagonal, almost a yin yang. (Which I never realized is a symbol for the cycle of day/night – moon and sun – eternal cycle – I suppose that’s obvious when you say it, but I just read that online. )

It’s like dealing with a difficult boss or a willful child. You can make suggestions and the water will take them under consideration. But you know their habits, so you know what kind of suggestion might work today :)

Well, there is one thing I’d like to say – which is that this painting was inspired by a photo by @Hannes_Becker, on Instagram.

This is probably going to get me into trouble, but – I’m just in the process of applying for some watercolor competitions, and this question of Derivative Works is on my mind. Specifically the fact they are almost universally NOT ALLOWED in the big watercolor society competitions.

I’ve talked before about how I’ve done a complete turn-around from what was taught in the 80’s and 90’s.

I no longer think that derivative work, (that is, making new work that begins with another person’s art – usually a photograph) is artistically ‘weak’ or ‘cheating’.

I realize we’re gaining something from the other artist’s color sense, or their composition, or even their choice of subject – but at the end of the day, this is no more than we would gain by looking and thinking about art.

And – aside from something silly like tracing, or printing-out and drawing-over, each artist has to develop their own hand skills before they can make a derivative work in the first place. So, whatever we have borrowed is very small in comparison to what we had to do on our own.

And yes, we are taking advantage of the time, energy and money photographers spend getting to locations and bringing back images. I admit – this theft of time, or poaching of access to locations, this is less defensible – but – ultimately – I have to choose art over commerce.

Because, that is not an argument about infringing another person’s artistic rights, but more about them protecting their business investment.

While I see the point, that it’s very expensive to be a photographer, I suppose I have abdicated that concern. Paintings have to get made, and I am getting too old, and my time to paint is slipping away every day. It is equally expensive to be a painter, and the photographers borrow equally as much from art – where do you think composition comes from? It’s not a law of nature, it’s a cultural practice. A tradition.

In any case. I feel that if nobody was allowed to paint a thing they have never seen in person – well – what we would lose in paintings made, and artistic talent developed, is greater than what the photographer loses in this situation.

At the end of the day, I’ll just say – let’s not be so worried (or embarrassed) about making derivative art.

And I hope we can put an end to banning it from colleges and competitions, and simply critique it, or jury it, as you would any work.

If it’s Bad Derivation you can say so. If it’s Good Derivation, you can ALSO say so.

There’s nothing about painting from found (or researched!) inspiration than is any less creative than standing in a garden and painting yet another flower, or going in the studio to paint yet another portrait.

If you accept the values of traditional art (hand skills, formal painting concerns) – which the big materials societies by definition do – the watercolor clubs and the pastel societies, the oil painters associations and the figurative painting leagues – all of these bastions of tradition clearly accept that art is derivative of history. As traditional artists who paint and draw, we have accepted rules about composition and color theory, we have techniques and tools that have been used for centuries – all of this is handed down from the past, in the same way as subject matter is handed down.

It is rendition that is unique to each person, not the art form or the language of art. Just as every musician might start with the same sheet music, but every performance is unique.

So, that’s my thoughts for today!

Here’s Wikipedia on the definition of Derivative Works if you want to gain from a informed opinion on all of this.

And, thanks very much for posting your images @Hannes_Becker!


3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2021 11:25 AM

    I appreciate your take on this, similar to mine. A couple of years ago I was commissioned to do a ink and watercolor of Big Ben. I have been to London a few times, so have seen it in person, but no photos. So I went to an image search. There are hundreds of posted photos of Big Ben, and you know what, they all look almost exactly alike. So I felt zero guilt in picking one to use for my reference. With dozens of photos from the bridge they would all be the same view as if I was sketching sitting on the bridge. There was nothing uniquely artistic about any of them. Thanks for the insight, I think some folks get a bit carried away on this.

  2. June 18, 2021 6:32 PM

    What a fabulous watercolor. Imitating the way that Nature makes her clouds! It’s all about water. Good old H2O. I think you have given Mother Nature a run for her money!

  3. Terry James permalink
    June 18, 2021 6:42 PM

    This one is special….
    One can sense the swirling clouds and the changing scene in your “derivative” (which is said tongue in cheek). Great to see your posts again. I love your oils, but have truly missed your watercolors!

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