The Vexed Subject of Copyright

(Am I Really That Old Fashioned?)

My work was once deemed not suitable for a particular exhibition because it wasn’t ‘contemporary’. After pinching myself to find if I still existed I was left wondering how I could achieve that condition. The definition of what is Modernist or contemporary painting has been a vexed question for over 100 years now just as the question of what constitutes good or bad painting will always draw and argument.

Most regular exhibitions either through art societies or charity organisations, require certain conditions to be met for entry from ‘mainly painted from life” to “no use of digital media” as well as size restrictions etc. but there is often scant mention of copyright.

I am often asked by prospective student about copying paintings from photographs and my stock answer is that if one has a photograph of their own which they considered good enough to copy as a painting, the photo itself should be blown up and framed.

The use of sketches, preliminary paintings and even photographs as references for a final work has been widely acceptable for many years, if the photographs have been taken by the artist, but the use of other peoples images without permission is, if not illegal then certainly immoral in my opinion. As a student of realist painting one thing that was drilled into me was that we painted from life or to put it another way we converted three dimensional information into two dimensions, placed that information on a two dimensional panel in such a way that it looked three dimensional. When painting,I do not work from two dimensional data apart from the occasional posthumous portrait which I tend to avoid.

Whilst I have always seen myself as a painter and played down the image of artist I am proud to admit to composing or designing my own work using what little artistic abilities that I have. I have done my share of copying the works of those painters I admire, but that is for my own pleasure and not for display or sale. One of my teachers had us copy one of their works as an exercise, upside down of course and it was very informative as regards technique.

In this digital age quality images of all sorts are at our fingertips and the temptation to use them or worse copy them must be great for the amateur painter, but to see what are obvious copies of other peoples work being produced and displayed by professional artists, I find offensive in the extreme.

If that means I am old fashioned then I will proudly wear that epithet and I will remain contemporary for a few more years as well.

Don James

10th January 2022.


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