Yesterday, Jaye Alison Moscariello of Mendocino, California wrote, “A year ago I moved to the West Coast and joined an artist collective. With the incredible inspiration of the new area, my work changed dramatically. I wanted to capture the best part of the vast landscape. I began making very long horizontal watercolors. People responded. Another member told me he liked my work and then he started to do the same thing — same format, same subjects, even similar titles. I feel awful that he is placing his work so close to mine. Now he’s selling prints of his work. I know competition is healthy, it’s just that I came to that format organically. How should I respond? His wife is the gallery director.”
Thanks, Jaye. While you’re probably not the first to use the long format, nor will you be the last, it is aggravating when this sort of thing hits so close to home. It’s a jungle out there. Predators are ready to snap up your babes. But take heart, by the looks of your website you’re capable of a wide range of styles and motifs. I’m sure your imagination will outrun that of your entrepreneurial and well-connected copycat. FYI, we’ve put a selection of Jaye’s work at the bottom of this letter.
It’s not so much a matter of authenticity versus ersatz, it’s a matter of the shaky validity of prior claim. The general public doesn’t often know, and dealers don’t often care.
No matter how the world turns, the evolved artist learns to keep her spirits up, her head down and her attention on her own processes. While there are plenty who would deny it, art is a doing thing, not to be sullied with public response. My advice:
Keep supplying your work to the gallery, but don’t hang out there. Look for other galleries, collectives and friends who may not be as likely to clone. Your success is your calling card. Take control and put galleries in your stable, not you in theirs. Keep pursuing your private bliss. Your natural curiosity, creative flair and good work habits will take you to your next epiphany.
Above all, hold no bitterness toward your admirer. His story is one of the oldest, but it can be the very source of development, progress and innovation. Like it or not, we are all small actors on the great stage of Creative Darwinism.
PS: “Those who follow are always behind.” (A. Y. Jackson)
Esoterica: “Is it possible to copyright a mountain?” a friend asked me recently. He had done the same one so many times he thought he had a right to be its personal painter. I mentioned the Canadian watercolourist and printmaker Walter J. Phillips, who had wondered the same about Mt. Rundle, near Banff, Alberta. “It’s my bread and butter mountain,” he used to say. Phillips has gone now but the mountain is still looking for its greater master.
Jaye Alison Moscariello — Mendocino series
Jaye Alison Moscariello – Other work
by William McAllister, Bath, Bristol, UK
They say it’s flattery, but it does hurt when imitators jump right into the middle of your own, organic, artistic evolution. Jaye, you are the original. Keep doing your own work, and consider that this gallery director is certainly not the person you want representing your work. That she would not object to her husband’s lack of artistic restraint, but indeed exhibits his work in the same venue as yours is not very professional.
There is 1 comment for Unprofessional behaviour by William McAllister
Making Art is Job One
by Loretta West, Spokane,WA, USA
I would advise any artist to try to avoid a gallery where the owner shows their own work or those of family members. In my experience the work of the owner and or family member’s work is usually promoted ahead of other artist’s work and things can get sticky. It is not always apparent at first blush if this is happening in a gallery, but it helps to visit a few times and ask around before moving forward.
Showing your work in galleries these days is a mine field and what helps me when I get bogged down in marketing and other business is to remember that Making Art is Job One. It is what I am here for and will continue to do regardless of circumstance. I find that if I stick to this maxim and trust my instincts in other matters then those matters tend to sort themselves out and push me forward in a newer and better direction.
by Becki Trachsel Hesedahl, Ward Cove, Alaska, USA
The copycat can be very disheartening, I agree. Especially when this person has the connections you mentioned. Robert’s words of wisdom, “Above all, hold no bitterness toward your admirer.” That is the most important lesson here. The negative energy would only hurt you, not the copycat.
On a brighter note, the paintings of Jaye Alison Moscariello are beautiful. Keep going! I love the horizontal format on the landscapes. This week I have also been thinking about the wide horizontal format for my SE Alaska paintings. The landscape is so vast that it is hard to contain each scene into one painting because everywhere I look there is so much more. When I moved here four months ago from Oregon I wasn’t sure if I would find things to paint. I now know there will never be enough time to paint it all. There is not the bright color of autumn that we have in the Willamette Valley of Oregon but the subtle shades and shifts in color convey a special and mysterious mood up here. I am just getting started and am excited that there is so much to explore.
Stay three jumps ahead
by Theresa Bayer, Austin, TX, USA
When copycats start imitating, it’s time to move on. It’s ideal to stay about three jumps ahead. Being capable of a wide range of styles and motifs allows an artist enough flexibility to leap ahead to the next thing. Your advice not to worry, but instead to look to one’s own resources is spot on.
Another strategy would be to focus very tightly and develop a signature technique to the point where it would be difficult to imitate. At the same time, I see nothing wrong in being inspired by a single aspect of another’s work because different artists will interpret such things differently. However, there is a big difference between that and trying to appropriate someone else’s whole shtick.
Inspired by panoramic large format
by Bill Skuce, Sooke, BC, Canada
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria featured a retrospective five years ago of the paintings of Takao Tanabe, a prominent Canadian artist since the 1960s. The show’s most stunning works were several realistic landscapes in a 20 foot by 4 foot format. The scale left me breathless. On the threshold of revisiting landscape painting I decided to adopt the panoramic format of these inspirational works of Tanabe’s only on a much more manageable scale, e.g. 8 inch by 30 inch and the like. Trying it opened an exciting new phase for me that continued for several years. When I noticed other panoramic work showing up in my neck of the woods after I exhibited a body of them, I simply considered it a nice form of flattery. (Equally as encouraging as the paintings of Tenabe was that he was 80 years old and still going strong when he had completed the twenty footers.)
Wisdom from an Indian Master
by Mantradevi LoCicero, Nevada City, CA, USA
I’m sympathetic to Jaye’s dilemma of having another artist in such close proximity imitate her work. It’s a bit like having an annoying younger sibling following you around. No one likes that. On the other hand, whether we like it or not, that’s largely how human beings learn, from the example of others. Children imitate their parents, and then, hopefully, develop into their own style of person. When I see someone imitating what I do, and it irks me, I think of something the great Indian Master, Paramhansa Yogananda, said, “An artist doesn’t really create anything — he just rearranges what is already there.” It helps me put myself into perspective with the great Creator who gave us all the tools and examples in the first place. I like what Robert said about keeping our heads down and our attention on our own processes. The spirit of our own “original” creativity will shine through.
Direct influence on an artist’s vision
by Phil Carroll, USA
I wanted to respond to Jaye’s concerns and I agree that the format has been used for years. I myself use a similar format and so does Dan Chard a realist painter from New Jersey who shows with OK Harris in New York. He started his career with exactly the same size format of a couple inches to 12 inches in the 1980s when he changed from an abstract painter to realism. Having said that, I agree it can be annoying to have what you feel is yours copied by another. But do not despair, we have all had similar experiences and I would see it as a plus, rather than a minus, that you have directly influenced the artistic vision of a fellow artist.
If it’s any good they will steal it!
by Ellen Kochansky, Pickens, SC, USA
I love your voice, invariably one of calm and humor as well as wisdom in this frantic art-life. This post especially appealed to me, and resonates with the experiences I and many colleagues in my area, fine crafts, have experienced. The artists who spend all their time looking over their shoulders and suing the knock-off artists are invariably the ones who fear they will never have another good idea. As I learned in the fashion business, a particularly predatory one, “Keep moving, Baby! Of course they’ll steal it if it’s any good!”
There are 2 comments for If it’s any good they will steal it! by Ellen Kochansky
Don’t copy one’s self too much
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA
Oh by Jove! Picasso and Dali and every Impressionist must turn in their graves with millions of copycats! But in support of Ms. Jaye, I say let them copy you as long as you stay ahead of the game. And the name of the game is to not copy one’s self too much.
Seriously, don’t you think that after 100 or so paintings in the same format you may tire of them yourself? After all, it is the subject matter that must be treated in an, if not striking then, original manner. Don’t be pigeonholed by your own format. The cage is only an eyelid it’s the gaze that counts.
I recently came back from a lengthy Antibes and Venice vacation and assure you that the book of postcard photos I did of the cities has been done millions of times before me yet I found untold pleasure in photographing and many admirers of my photographic renditions.
Copycats keep us on our toes
by Tedde Ready, Atascadero, CA, USA
There is no way to stop copycats or knockoff ‘artists’ and, given that basic truth, have always tried to encourage the knock-offees that there is real purpose to those who are less than original. They keep the ‘good guys’ on their toes and are a constant push to keep moving forward, and doing what ‘real artists’ do best, being enormously creative. The justice is in the personal satisfaction. In a less than perfect world, it’s not such a bad payoff.
Enjoy the past comments below for Copycat in the gallery…
Featured Workshop: Scott Burdick
After the Harvest
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Fannie Griffin of Longwood, FL, USA, who wrote, “I read your quote to my husband about those who follow, and he replied, ‘Those who lead are always the first to be whacked!’ ”
And also Susan Pitt of Ottawa, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Unless you are the lead dog, the view is always the same. (Anon)”
And also Nancy Standlee of Arlington, TX, USA, who wrote, “From my mentor, artist Robert Burridge, ‘It’s all been done before but not by you.’ ”