Friday, March 20, 2009

Am I a fraud?

Recently I have been getting quite a bit of criticism for copying Andy Goldsworthy's sculptures. I guess this has a lot to do with the internet and publishing things in the public domain. There are unforeseen consequences in publishing my photos on the internet that I had not considered when I started out. For me it was a case of recording what I had done on Flickr and in my blog so that I had a record for my own purposes. Not to portray myself as Andy Goldsworthy number 2 and to try and deceive anyone. However, as I have recently discovered, this is not how everyone views it.

As I explained before I chanced upon Andy Goldsworthy's Clougha sculpture one day, I had no idea what it was, who built it but I was intrigued. I hadn't heard of him when I was told who made it. But I bought a book of his and was amazed at his vision and skill. And being a non-arty person I wanted to have a go myself. I have always loved nature and the outdoors and Andy Goldsworthy's pictures fascinated me so much that I wanted to copy some of his sculptures to make a three-dimensional version of one of his photos, to discover the process he went through and just to see whether I could actually do it. I never considered I would have my own ideas and I viewed it all as a little hobby I was doing for my own pleasure, just like someone might copy a famous painting just for the fun of doing it.

I discovered after a while that I was reasonably good at copying his sculptures and I realised that maybe I should explore my own ideas but I still enjoyed making approximate copies. (I am well aware that my copies are nowhere near as good as the originals).

But still, throughout this time I considered all this as something I did for myself as a hobby in my spare time. Sure it is nice to receive compliments about what I have done but I didn't expect to receive negative comments as I thought it was something I was just doing for myself. I didn't realise that some people would take exception to me copying some of his sculptures.

As my interest in land art grew so did the interest other people had in it. It was late last year when I built the first cairn that suddenly other people could see something I had built and some of the locals round here started visiting my sculptures. From that point things started to change and opportunities started to come my way. In parallel I started to make steps to express my own ideas and to not copy AG's work anymore. The early seeds of believing that I might be able to create my own artworks were sown but I am still struggling with that idea.

I never had a plan or an agenda on where any of this would lead. There is no harm in copying something when that is all you are doing but what happens when you want to do something more and you only got there through copying? Is that legitimate?

I seem to be spectacularly bad at taking criticism. I do take it quite badly and feel upset when I am told that my work has no worth as it is all "ripped off."

Perhaps the reason for this is it's true? I do feel that my latest work is original and stands up on its own but is that right? Perhaps anyone who likes it does not know AG's work as well as me and cannot see the heavy influence his work has had on me. I don't know.

The thing is I did copy many of his sculptures, I didn't even try and come up with my own ideas in the beginning. It was only through doing that that I discovered that I might actually have my own ideas at all. If I hadn't done so I wouldn't be doing land art at all or probably any style of art. I owe him a great debt for inspiring me to find a way of expressing any artistic bent I have. But still copies of his work are there amongst my own ideas and anyone looking at them who knows AG's work will know they are copied and may quite rightly dismiss it all as ripped off. I can see how that might happen.

Had my land art not received any attention then I guess there would not be a problem. Someone copying someones work is neither here nor there. But if that person starts to get more attention then it starts to look like that they are ripping off someone elses ideas for their own benefit. I think this is why the criticism has upset me so much. It has never been my intention to rip anyone off, yet I want to do more and get more out of what I do. So what do I need to do from here?

If anyone has read this far then I would really appreciate your opinions on this matter. I feel that I am unable to make a clear decision now as I can't see the wood for the trees. Does my work all appear to be copied? Is there stuff in there that is original and should be acceptable as promoting as my own? I really want to make more of this and explore every opportunity that I can but not if I am seen as fraud.

Do you think that I should take down all pictures that are copies of AG's work? Or perhaps move them to a group where they are listed as copies. Is anyone willing to give their opinion on which sculptures they think are original? I feel poorly equipped now to draw the line between what is my work and what is AG's especially where they are not copied but similar.

Thanks for listening if anyone has got this far. I need to grow a thicker skin if I want to do this stuff more extensively but I have always been hyper-sensitive! I wish I didn't get upset by criticism as it is hard work but I can't control it.

I wrote an answer here on a similar theme (scroll down to the bottom). I'll leave the details of the other mails I have received for another time. I am not fishing for compliments to make me feel better about the criticism I have received, instead I want to better avoid future criticism by portraying my work in a way that is honest about my AG influences but also to promote my own work without it appearing to be ripping off someone elses work. I would appreciate any opinions to help me do that.

Ps. the inflammatory post title is done in the best journalistic style, to draw attention to the article but not necessarily to be very true! So apologies for the emotive stance!


Sarah said...

All artists draw on others for inspiration, it's a fact, even the great masters. They look at how others concieve a style that they like , serve an apprenticeship and then move on to create their own original work. Did the Immpressionists all copy each other? I don't think so

What I think you are doing is still serving your apprenticeship. You appear to be learning the tequniques in this kind of land art and that is a great thing. One day you will find the niche that is you, ie your very own style.
It's what most artists learn at art school, you just haven't had that disipline.

I have been painting for years and still haven't truly found my own 'style' I chop and change regularly depending on whose work I have been studying.

I think the only time there may be problem in 'copying' others work is when you come ro sell it or indeed have an exhibition/commision.

I really feel that you can be very strongly influenced by AG's work as long as what you do as 'yours' is original.

So that's my oppinion..for what it's worth, and I think your doing a great job keep it up and don't be discouraged!

Anonymous said...

> that are copies of AG's work? Or perhaps move them to a group where they are listed as copies.>

I would separate those off that are copies of Andy's and mark them clearly for what they are. (Not that I've ever had the impression you were passing them off as originals.) Or even take them down completely, leaving just a few to show where you started, so people don't get distracted by your "foundation course work".

Your later work is heavily influenced by AG, inevitably, but definitely your own. You're using the same palette (earth, leaves, branches, stone) but producing your own stuff. Students working in the style of a master and then gradually developing their own is a centuries old tradition. Just think of all those paintings labelled "school of Rembrandt/Goya" etc.

Comparisons to AG are inevitable. But I would be delighted to be in such admirable company.

Richard Shilling said...

Thanks to you both for replying, it is really very much appreciated. I have taken your advice Anon and split off the copied work and specifically noted what they are in a number of places to try and avoid any misunderstandings in future. It is good to know that some of my work stands up on its own.

Teri said...

I have just recently been following some of the blogs as I have just set up my own blog. So, the blogs I have been following have "pointed" me to your page and I found it very stimulating and interesting. I, too, am an artist and I would have to say that honestly, I have been influenced by all artists. I have tried to create my own work too, but yes, we are influenced greatly by what we see around us. To me, everything is art: shadows, tree formations, rocks on the sand at the beach, quilts, buildings, etc. Don't you agree? And, I have been inspired by works of art that I have studied at school and books that I pick up. Even, BLOGS that I see! We are all "students" I think until the day we die. Isn't there something that says that if you change it by a certain percentage that your work is deemed original anyway?

EmandaJ said...

You are not a fraud! You are a student/apprentice copying the master as artists have been doing for centuries. There has always been a tradition of copying The Masters -- in the Louvre, in the Uffizi, etc. Once the student/apprentice had gained enough technique, s/he was allowed to work more closely with the master in collaboration, and then finally on his/her own.

Yes, your early work is very closely related to AG's, but you have gone beyond that recently and you are creating works in your own "voice". That you are using the same materials in a similar style is obvious, but the "Impressionist" did the same thing.

If you wanted to avoid any confusion, you could separate out the apprentice pieces and focus on your newer, more original works.

For what it's worth, AG seems to use egg-shapes, arches, river/snakes, and spirals. You're works tend to be more angular: squares, lines, pyramids, line-bars. To my art historian eyes, the two styles are distinctively different.

Teri said...

I think that we all chance being copied ourselves by posting to the web with our blogs. But, we have to look at it as though we ourselves have inspired someone else's work I guess. What is truly our own, when you get right down to it? Don't you see a similarity in things that you follow via other's blogs? I do. But, my work is my work and I put my own spin on it as I'm sure you do. I agree about splitting the works. Good idea. Even if they were just inspirations in my opinion. YOU DID THE WORK--you could no more copy exactly then he could reproduce his own work exactly if he had to!

BACEBO said...

If I were an artist, personally, I would be happy to have inspired someone like you, who shares the same values and spreads the word about landart respectfully.

Have you tried contacting AG himself or his agent? I think that's the only place where your true answer lies.

Richard Shilling said...

Emanda: Thank you. It is interesting what you say. I've certainly noticed that what I do does have a certain style. I find it a bit weird to look at my own pictures and see that they have a recognisable look, I think my photos are distinctively mine (apart from the obvious issue we are talking about here). But I don't try to make them look a certain way they just come out like that and all of them seem to (just as Teri says your work is your own). I am still trying to come to terms with having a style and thinking that my work is any good! It is strange when you haven't trained as an artist, never really done artistic things, never thought you would and then you find you are doing it! It really is very perplexing as though someone else is doing it.

Teri: Thank you. I totally agree with you. AG is amongst a select few who have been truly visionary and come up with something new. Artists such as him are very rare. The rest of us take in different influences and put our own spin on it but to be a pioneering visionary is something else. And again you are right, some of the copies took considerable effort to make!

Bacebo: That's funny I was thinking exactly that a few minutes ago. I may try and track him down, although I have never managed to find an obvious contact on the web. I reckon he wouldn't care too much what I had copied but would appreciate that someone had discovered the hidden depths of land art that are found through practice by being inspired by his work. I know I would find that satisfying. His land art is about discovering things about nature and through his work I did just that, exactly as you say. Surely an artist would be pleased that you have discovered something and understood something new through their work. That must be what it is all about. BTW you are every bit the artist that I am, there aren't any rules, you seem to have discovered yourself one day just as I did. Keep it up.

Thanks everyone, your comments mean a great deal to me and I really appreciate you spending your time reading what I said and being kind enough to reply.


Anonymous said...

Penpont is a small town, sure the Postman knows where he lives. Send it to AG, Penpont,DG3 Scotland

Fiona said...

Your early work is obviously copies of AG's work - but your recent work has a definite feel of your own. I don't think you should remove your early work - you have already made it obvious that it is copies of AG's work. It is fascinating to see how your work has changed over time - from starting out as copies to you gradually finding your own style and expressing yourself through your art. This makes your photographs a fascinating resource as they chart the development of an artist.

Your more recent work is obviously still inspired by AG but very much has your own slant on it and is original - you are definitely not a fraud.

ArtPropelled said...

Land Art is still relatively new to many people so when they see it they think "Goldsworthy" but once they start looking around at more land art they soon realize that there are many artists with their own style.

I would just tag photos and blog posts with "Goldsworthy copies" (which I think you've done from the start anyway).You've never tried to hide the fact that you are copying while learning. I don't see why you have to contact Goldsworthy either....You've done nothing wrong. As far as I can see you have served your apprenticeship and are now developing your own style. I hope you don't allow this to hover at the back of your mind. Your talent astounds me and I have a very strong gut feeling that you are going to be up there with Goldsworthy one day soon.

P.S. This is the 2nd comment. If the first found it's way to you ....delete one.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Sarah and some of the other comments here. Many of the great masters of the past learnt their craft by copying others. AG has obviously inspired you as you will go on an inspire others. I think it perfectly ligitimate to take AG's work and copy it as part of your process of understanding how he constructs his work. Your work maybe similar but you are not trying to pass your work off as AG and as you progress you will become more confident in your own choices. I am sure if you and AG were to work side by side on a project using the same materials you would each create something different.As would gordon ramsey and jamie oliver if you gave them the same ingredients to cook with.
AG work is amazing but that doesnt mean there isnt room for other land artists. In the same way there is room for "Take that" and "boyzone." I am not sure it that is the ideal analogy. You are passionate about what you do, you are bringing a lot of pleasure to myself and others who follow your work on flickr. You are emerging as an artist in your own right so please continue as you are and try not to let the comments of others make you doubt your motivations.

Richard Shilling said...

Thanks everyone again.

I guess self-doubt can be a good thing. A bit of soul-searching has and will only make me try harder to find and express my own voice.

To receive such great support and encouraging words makes it all worthwhile and drives me on. It really means a great deal. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Without wishing to discourage:

I haven't read all the comments in this string but I think there is definitely some understandable hero worship going on here.

People are not interested in a pale imitation of a great artist (if indeed A.G. is such!). The question is "What have you got to tell us?".

All art is story telling and it has to be your story. In effect you are telling A.G.'s story and we can see it is such. And so we can't be impressed - if anything, the opposite.

Put A.G. out of your life for a while and see what the space that creates is filled by. As someone mentioned that is already happening. Do your stuff, try things, work with like-minded others near to you, enjoy the puddles of pleasure you create in others.

Then go from there.

Richard Shilling said...

Thanks Anon. That is good advice. I do think I have been doing exactly as you suggest recently and I am gradually finding my way. I really feel that some of my recent sculptures do express my personality and are not copies of anyone and they were all the more satisfying to make because of that.

trinity8419 said...

I'd never heard of Andrew Goldsworthy before finding your pics on Flickr. I was instantly intrigued, having never seen anything like it before. And to say you're not "artistic" isn't exactly true -- "artistic" is just a certain way of seeing things differently than others do, then sharing your vision with them. I've taken a lot of photos of leaves, but it never occurred to me to make anything out of them! I'm also "blessed" with an overabundance of honeysuckle vines, weeds, trees & all manner of natural materials. If I made things like I saw on your photostream, would that be copying? Probably. But how else would I learn the mechanics, so I could go on with my own ideas? I'd consider my first exposure to the idea of land art to be inspiration, & my first attempts to be practice -- just like any other art student.

Keep doing what you're doing to satisfy yourself first; worry about others later, or better yet not at all.

Anonymous said...

I just found your work through flickr. I find it truly inspiring. I think it's perfectly fine to copy stuff while you are learning and you have admirably never tried to pass it off as your own. You are upfront and as honest as anyone could be. I do not find you to be a Goldsworthy clone at all and I hope you will carry on exciting and inspiring us with your wonderful creations. And really, if anyone out there doesn't like it then I think that it's their problem, not yours... :)

Anonymous said...

Richard you are an artist. No other documentation is needed. I would love to learn and be an apprentice. I beleive the world is made up of artists they just don't know it. You see a picture in your mind of a rock tower or log stack or a mud puddle. It triggers your mind to create an image for others to enjoy and learn from. Believe in yourself. You are good at what you do. Drop AG a line and thank the world for him for inspiring all of us to look at everything closer.

missplumeau said...

I have been watching your Flickr stream for a couple of months now. I am familiar with the work of Mr Goldworthy and you obviously are inspired by this talent. In the same way Mr. Mozart was inspired by Joseph Haydn and many more musician.All artists learn and apprentice from their elders and peers. Some achieve mastery of their art while some do not.
From what you have shared with the world, you seem to be achieving mastery with this form of art. THANK YOU so much for sharing it and most probably inspiring more of us.