Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Imitation is not the highest form of flattery.

2008 . 06 . 11 - Comments / Commentaires (0)

When I was seven, we made butterflies in art class. Howie, the teacher, had us fold a piece of paper in half and cut out a perfectly symmetrical butterfly. I was particularly pleased with the shape of mine.  It was elaborate and curlicued: it was my own kind of bug.  Once we had colored them in, we hung them all up together, and that’s when I noticed that there was something very wrong. Someone else’s butterfly had the same silhouette as mine. A classmate had fished my scraps out of the trash and traced my design for her cut-out.

I still remember how upset I was—too irritated to even notice my classmate’s ingenuity! I recall too my mother comforting me.  She said that imitation is the highest form of flattery.

I didn’t believe her at the time. After all, what I was feeling was as far from “flattered” as could be! And, I certainly don’t believe her now. 


Tiffany’s Self-portrait 2008

A few months ago, I came across this self-portrait by Tiffany, a senior in high school. She had blogged about the experience of “Gwenn-Seemel-ing” her painting (that’s what she called doing the painting in my style). I was floored by the results. As it turns out, there is no better insight into how one’s work is perceived than in seeing what other people focus on when they want to reproduce it to some degree.

That, in itself, was an instructive and delightful experience, but, once I got over myself, I took a closer look at Tiffany’s painting and saw what was really going on. She hadn’t imitated me at all. Tiffany already has her own style, her own voice, her own way.  In my paintings, she found inspiration for a slightly different direction in her work, but the finished painting is completely hers.

I’ve decided that the saying is all wrong. Imitation is not the highest form of flattery. The best compliment I’ve ever received from another artist is Tiffany’s. She didn’t steal my butterfly: she liked my curlicues well enough to make them entirely her own.

- John T Unger says “DEFEND ART.”
- Free culture
- The un-myth of originality

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