Face Making

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

Imitator? Yes. Innovator? Maybe.

2011 . 11 . 29 - Comments / Commentaires (7)

- -—[version française]—- -

Art and all of culture evolve by imperfect imitations over time.

It’s true. Innovations get all the credit for helping culture to develop, but innovations are just imperfect imitations that happen to be an improvement on the old form.

What’s more, pure imitation fosters culture just as much as innovations do. Imitation creates a context for pieces of culture, and that context allows culture to be understood by a wider population, something that, in turn, allows culture to thrive and evolve.

In other words, art would die without imitation.

This idea is hard for some artists to digest.  When I bring up how important copying is to art-making, I get a lot of blank stares and too many “well you can imitate if you want, but I create.”

And I get it. Artists want to think of themselves as original. What’s more, it’s true that on some level everyone is unique and their expressions are distinctive. That said, it’s a mistake to dismiss imitation’s importance to art.


I see the imitation factor in my own work:

I imitate by putting paint on canvas. If no one had ever done that, there would be no context for doing it. In that world, my paintings wouldn’t be seen for their subjects or their technique: they’d likely be feared or ridiculed and possibly marveled at because pigment in medium slathered onto stretched fabric is such a strange thing.

I imitate by painting portraits. That’s something that not all cultures do, but, in the ones that have a context for the genre, people often like my work.

I imitate other artists. Van Gogh was an important influence when I was 14 or so, but I continue to steal bits and pieces from other artists.

I imitate the crosshatching of printmaking in my painting. I developed my style starting with an intaglio class I took in my teens. I translated the methods of one medium into another.

I imitate when I create derivative works. This is crucial to my process as an artist. Many of my paintings have no meaning without the existence of an original work for me to remix. My Apple Pie series is full of paintings like that—paintings that quote propaganda, comics, cartoons, cultural icons, and other artists.

Am I an innovator? Are my imitations imperfect enough? Are they an improvement on what came before? Maybe or maybe not.

The point is that all artists imitate even if they don’t innovate. And since that’s the case, how can we pretend that we own the work we make? How can we stop others from imitating the culture we create? How does copyright benefit culture and culture-makers?

- Learning from copying / Apprendre avec l’imitation
- Taking the “property” out of intellectual property
- On owning culture

CATEGORIES: - English - Philosophy - Uncopyright -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(7) Comments / Commentaires: Imitator? Yes. Innovator? Maybe.

-- Lisa Isabella Russo -- 2011 . 11 . 30 --

Very nice post, thank you.  While I would not argue the point of imitation, it’s an interesting angle to have approached it by.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Gwenn -- 2011 . 11 . 30 --

Please elaborate!  What do you mean you wouldn’t argue the point of imitation?

And thanks for reading!

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- James -- 2011 . 12 . 06 --

“I translated the methods of one medium into another.”

Yes, yes, yes. This process is how some of the most “original” art, in my opinion, is made. Whether it’s using the methods of poetry to write fiction (one of my favorite things to attempt) or using the methods of fiction to write a song, this use of methods that transcends medium is one thing that results in art which FEELS new and different. At least to me.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Gwenn -- 2011 . 12 . 07 --

This is really interesting, James.  I’ve been thinking that the best art is made up of the spaces in between things—spaces that the artist invites the audience to fill in with their own stories.  Along those lines, I think that my series Subjective was pretty good since there was literally a space for the audience to come into—the space between my version of the subjects and my collaborator’s version. 

What you’re saying makes me think of that.  Juxtaposing things and mashing them up are not really that far from each other.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- PIDDIU Mélissia -- 2011 . 12 . 07 --

Après avoir traduis avec Google (mon meilleur ami xD). Je pense que l’imitation et la création sont compatible. L’un n’empêche pas l’autre. Il suffit de voir tes portraits, tu imite la réalité de tes photo par les traits du visage, et tu innove grâce à la technique que tu utilise pour les peindre.
Et je pense que l’imitation est une partie intégrante du processus d’apprentissage et aussi de création.
On a pas l’un sans l’autre.
Je pense que c’est nier de dire qu’on créer sans imiter, car on peut très bien imiter de manière inconsciente. =)

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Gwenn -- 2011 . 12 . 07 --

Plus besoin de traduire cet article.  Tu as résumé tout ce que j’ai dit parfaitement.  C’est sympa!  Tu veux faire toutes mes traductions?  smile

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- PIDDIU Mélissia -- 2011 . 12 . 08 --

Non non, mais je suis nul en anglais ^^” je ne peux pas faire toutes les traductions, mon ami google m’a bcp aidé à comprendre ce que tu as écrit =). Mais contente que ce que j’ai écris correspondent à ce que tu voulais exprimer ^^

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

Add a comment / Ajouter un commentaire

Name / Votre nom:

Email / Votre e-mail:

(Visible only to Gwenn / Visible uniquement pour Gwenn)

URL / Votre URL:

(Optional / Facultatif)

Comment / Commentaire:

(You can use / Vous pouvez utiliser: < a >, < b >, < i >)

 Remember me for next time. / Retenez mes coordonnées.

 Email me new comments. / Abonnez-moi au fil de discussion.

Please enter the characters you see below / Veuillez rédiger le mot que vous voyez ci-dessous: