Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Copy Me, Please! - A Beadmaking Journey

In general I’m a pretty serene person but last night I entered a heated debate on the Lampwork, Etc (http://lampworketc.com) site. Unfortunately, the “triggering” posts from the original thread had already been deleted. She (more than likely a lovely person) must have panicked at the responses she was seeing. It was the universal conversation artists have, no matter what the medium, plagiarism. For those not familiar with the concept it is to take and use the ideas or writings of another. I don’t think there is any controversy in that statement. It is fact. What is roundly debated is the degree to which it is acceptable to find your inspiration in other’s works and translate that into yours. Obviously a dot per dot reconstruction of Seurat is unacceptable but does that put pointillism off the batting order because he did it best? Now you see the dilemma? Or rather, the debate.

I am an artist, now working primarily in lampwork and metals. I have done so since college which gives me a pretty broad base of experience. To add to that tour de force I practice perpetual student-ism (cool made up word!). I am a technique junkie and probably a frustrated engineer because I grew up watching Mr. Wizard and always wanted the answer to “How’d you do that?”

It’s amazing how that simple question or the use of its subsequent information can cause an earthquake. Are you copying? Why hell yes I’m using that technique. But I am just as sure that when I first started, during and immediately after a class, I practice what the teacher instructs. When there were few teachers I emulated the books I could find. There was no wealth of teachers or glut of lampworkers then. And there was no Lampwork, Etc. I am not alone when I say I am delighted that there is a forum. But where people gather and talk there is bound to be some friction, it is inevitable. Someone makes a singular post usually critical about someone else’s piece of art (a handmade lampwork bead). It goes like this – and this is a variation on that theme, not a quote- “I’m confused, isn’t this a so and so design? They were my teacher (friend, etc.) and I know they didn’t make this bead. So what’s up with that?” Oh, you know the righteous indignation routine. Then we are all off and running, trying to put the worms back in the can…at least until the next righteously indignant person starts a new thread with a similar variation on the theme.

Clearly, to me, they just don’t get it!

Now, I can not make a case for Joe Boxer signing a Michelangelo but didn’t he and DaVinci have their minions? They apprenticed these people for near lifetimes. Let them paint on their paintings. Chihuly has minions too. Certainly we are not apprenticing to that extent in the lampworking arena but if you’re a good teacher there’s a chance you have minions (or at least a few groupies). I’ve felt groupie-ish. Learning is fun, flat out, and I’ve had more than my fair share of teachers. I’ve emulated, copied, and translated the work. It is the nature of an apprenticeship, even a short term one lasting a weekend.

What I have never felt is the need to defend or defame anyone capable of doing such themselves. Really! If you’re a friend (groupie) of so and so master lampworker and you see a replica (sic: duplicate) of one of their signature pieces why don’t you bring to their attention the offending piece? Let them do what they may. There has to be a motive for “outing” a person on a public forum besides poor manners or judgment.

Interpreting a bead or idolizing a bead master is certainly not a crime. We do not live in a vacuum. Artistic influences are everywhere. They are a visual assault on your senses and can fill you to overflow with inspiration. I have over 10 sketchbooks to validate that theory. If I can find inspiration in a teacher, a museum, a web page, why can’t someone else. And what are all of us minions to do with all this eye candy and knowledge? Before Lampwork, etc., forums, and Internet heaven I had the opportunity to work through this slippery slope somewhat privately. Newbie’s today do not. The world is our backyard and we are not always kind to our neighbors. No one got to be a “bead master” without first being a “bead minion”.

Of noteworthy value (if not curiosity) is that the young Turks of Beadland seem to remain somewhat clear of this fray. And yes, so do many masters. You rarely (if ever) see a Johnson, Tabor, Herrell, Greenburg, or Sersich commiserating on a forum over a “copy” (I have had most of them as teachers) – I haven’t. Maybe it’s because they’re young and the directional compasses are evolving so fast they’ve no need to be concerned about where they’ve been or are. They need only concentrate on growth.

Maybe it’s the lesson for all of us. Just put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

And yes, Virginia, there is a motive behind my name dropping. Aside from the fact it makes a good point. I’m hoping people will find this blog, warts and all. My serenity is not the absence of conflict but the ability to cope with it and learn from it. Bead On…

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