Last week there was a great deal of discussion about making a technique that you learn from another your own. As might be expected, there really was no clear agreement.
First off, it requires an encyclopediac knowledge of who did what first, which can not always be known. There are always cases of synchronistic creation. Two or more people creating work that has a great deal in common, without one knowing of the other. The whole discussions invites the question, how different does your work have to be to be considered to be your own? If you learn a technique from an artist whose work is well known, there may always be elements of their technique that are recognizable. Is changing a palette enough, or changing the way you are using the technique? Or is it a matter of changing subject matter or form?
This is a discussion that will always draw people in, but will never be one for which there is universal agreement. One person may focus on the similarities, while another will see the differences. The first person who figured out that you could imitate the millefiore techniques of glasswork in polymer clay did not in turn own that technique. The first person who layered a piece of pottery with a different color clay, and then carved out a design did not own that technique. The artists of the Impressionist period had similarities in their technique that were very different than artists that preceded them. Does this mean they copied one another, or were they merely inspired by one another?
After being involved in, or on the periphery of several of these conversations, I had to smile when I read the following quote on Alyson Stanfield's Art Biz blog this morning...
From Elizabeth Murray, who recently passed away:
''Everything has been done a million times. Sometimes you use it and it's yours; another time you do it and it's still theirs.''
I think that is the most clear and succinct summary of this connundrum. On some level we are all tweaking the same ideas that have been done again and again. Yet at the same time, we are trying to bring our own personal interpretation to that repetition.
Last week, I had the good fortune to sit in a demonstration by Leslie Blackford about how to make her nightlights. I also was lucky enough to sit very near her, and be able to look over and watch her pieces evolve. It was like watching a story unfold. Leslie has clearly found her voice. And the enthusiasm her work recieves is in large part, I believe, because of the authenticity of that voice.
During the demo, Leslie spoke about a piece of advice she often gives people when they are trying to create an animal. She tells people to emphasize the feature that is distinctive to that animal. So on an elephant, it might be the ears and trunk, on a rabbit it might be the ears. With this emphasis, it is easier to create a recognizable form.
What if, when we try to adopt a technique, or a subject matter that has been done again and again....what if, we applied that same idea? Emphasis on whatever it is that draws us to it? Could that be the way to move toward our own independent interpretation?
Honestly, I don't know. But I do know it is something worth thinking about. Figuring out what it is about our work we need to emphasize, exaggerate perhaps. Magnifying, amplifying, making more apparent that which we are trying to communicate in our work. Dropping away all that is not part of who we are and what we are trying to say. I'd love to hear what you have to say about all of this. How do you find your way?