TITLE: Originality Stolen
DATE: 9/02/2004 07:46:00 AM
"Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal." – Lionel Trilling
Imagine you owned a coffee shop that was known for free internet, Thursday B-movie nights, Friday poetry open-mic nights and, oh yea, a damn good cup a joe.
What would you do if your coffee clone parked its new shop down the street from you? Would you go over and give them a piece of your mind when they announced free Internet portals? Would the straw break the camels back when they announced their monthly line up of (you guessed it!) Thursday B-movie nights and Friday open-mic poetry jams?
Unfortunately… and inevitably… artists all encounter this copycat phenomenon.
In art school I remember on more than a dozen occasions looking around the room and seeing no less than three art students doing the exact same work or projecting the exact same ideas.
Are there really only so many original ideas in the world?
Is it possible that everything we see today as art or craft is just reinvented from generations before?
The intellectual questions abound.
Yet, the fact remains—If you are an artist or craftsperson and you run across a knock-off of your designs you will need to have a response. You must have a plan of action. Here are your options:
A) Outrage. What kind of a jerk would copy my work like this? This is unacceptable and I absolutely plan to do something about it.
B) Flattery. Wow! I had no idea my work was succeptible to being copied. How funny that someone would go through such effort just to mirror my techniques. Picasso was knocked off. Chihuly is knocked off. I guess I’ve truly arrived!
C) Hand wringing. This is aweful, but will it really hurt my business? Should I do something about it? Or will taking action just mean more time and trouble than it’s worth? If I ignore it, maybe it will go away.
D) Blasé. Well, I always knew something like this could happen. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. But I guess I will just have to hurry up and design new work so I can keep one step ahead of them. Life goes on.
Now, I realize I am over simplifying a very serious issue here. But, if you aren’t right in the middle of a knock-off nightmare, the issue needs to be oversimplified so you can see the naivete in some of the possible responses. It’s always easier to take a step back and look at your self when you are OUTSIDE a situation. I’m simply asking you to do this in advance, rather than after the fact where it has no benefit to you.
My reactions to the four overreactions above:
First – I don’t advise you resort to acting on outrage alone. No one every got anywhere by being a hothead. Cool your jets before you act against a copycat. And certainly, PLEASE, cool your jets before you run into a lawyer’s office. When the clock is ticking, you don’t want to be paying for frivelous conversations when your attorney spent most the time calming you down.
Second – Picasso is Picasso. Chihuly is Chihuly. You are you. Please don’t be flattered into submission. You are in the art industry to be in BUSINESS, right? Please don’t forget that. Picasso and Chihuly long ago reached points where business was not nearly as crucial an objective as celebrity.
Third – If you don’t know how to act on the situation, there are certainly people that can help. Be smart enough about your own business to know that NOTHING every goes away without a good deal of effort. Pity parties and inaction have no place when you work is being copied.
Fourth – Yes, life truly does always march on. You are left behind if you stop marching too long. So, please keep your new designs flowing but do not neglect that protecting your artist name or company name is an integrity issue. It affects galleries who sell your work and collectors who buy your designs.
Remember: for every action there is quite possibly an equal and opposite over-reaction. A knock-off affects more than just you, the artist. Adjust your reaction with your business target (your customer’s reaction) clearly in mind.