Last year Jane, an artist and collector, bought a painting at a prestigious art show. She loved this new addition to her collection and hung it over her computer so she could look at it every day. Recently, Jane decided to buy another painting from the same artist, so she looked online and was directed to a gallery website. When she clicked on the artist's name, Jane was shocked to see the same painting she had in her office again for sale. Well, it wasn't Jane's painting but it was a darn good copy. True, the copy was a few inches larger and it had a slightly different name, but when she placed the photos side by side, she couldn't see any difference between the two. In a matter of seconds, a cherished treasure had become nothing more than a mass-produced commodity. Jane felt hurt and cheated. When Jane contacted the artist directly, the situation deteriorated further. Now Jane was angry.
The initial reaction from the group of artists who heard Jane's story was to question the similarity of the the two paintings. When we compared the photos it was remarkable how identical they were. After seeing the evidence, we all felt that the artist's behavior was questionable, but was it unethical? Our main concern was that the smaller painting had not been done as a study for the larger painting, but instead one was actually a copy of the other. This conclusion seemed to be confirmed by the artist in his response to Jane's email. So the artist had deliberately reproduced his earlier painting. Our discussion raised several issues for me personally since I often use small plein air studies as inspiration for my studio paintings. Would my client understand the difference between a studio painting based on a study and a painting copied from an earlier work? And would that distinction affect the client's feelings?
Using a smaller study as inspiration for a larger studio piece is common practice by many artists. I don't know if other artists sell the study, but normally I post both paintings on my website for sale. Now I wondered if my actions might also be perceived in a negative way. I decided to take the initiative and contact a client. A recent sale was the perfect test. I emailed a client who bought a large studio piece (30x36) and asked if posting the study (9x12) for sale on my website was a problem for her. I was relieved by her response. She had seen them both posted on my site and at first was surprised, but she enjoyed seeing the evolution of her painting from a rough study to a refined painting. Instead of being upset, my client found it interesting. She saw a noticeable difference between the two paintings and she appreciated the process I was sharing with her by showing both paintings. My client was happy and as a result, so was I.
The second question raised by Jane's story is one of ethics. When painting, an artist makes 2000 decisions every hour. Each of those decisions affects the quality of the painting. Take the same care on the decisions which have consequences to your career, no matter how big or small. When making choices, it is important to consider your responsibility to your clients and remember that the customer is always right. When in doubt ask, "What would my buyer think?" Questions of ethics are tricky and finding the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior isn't always easy.Topics: Marketing 101
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17 Responses to Should an Artist Duplicate a Successful Painting?
Well written, Sharon.
I know the inspiration of the story and I think you've done a beautiful job of making all of the points very clear!
I'm interested to hear if your readers have any opinions about this issue. You know mine.
Thanks Marian. I hope the topic is of interest to others. It would be great to get a discussion about this going. I would like to hear what other artists think.
Sharon, I found your article very interesting and thought provoking.
I have plein air painted at the same location and view a number of times. Each painting might have a similar composition, but it is clear that I have evolved in each painting.
I've also done this with paintings from photographs I've taken from places I have painted. The paintings are similar but different. I certainly was not copying the first painting, but instead was approaching it as a new exploration. Areas that did not seem fully resolved were worked out or there was a change in format besides a change in size. I don't do this often, but I have done this a couple of times.
I think my practice is legitimate and would hope any buyers would have a similar reaction as yours had and not have a reaction like Jane's.
Your point is well taken. If an artist is painting the same scene but for different reasons inevitable the painting will change. The why becomes important. For example if I am painting an apple to understand value it will look different than if I am painting it to explore color. The why not the what is the variable.
I was very interested to click on this topic as I was just pondering the issue earlier today! I sold an 8x8 painting of boat, beach, etc. and then turned around and painted another one in a slightly larger size - 12 x 12. I did not "copy" the original, in fact I did make an effort to make a few changes. THAT one sold also. I now have painted a 3rd one! This one is also a 12x 12 however the color palette is very different. The boat is an entirely different color, etc.
I would love to hear any comments........
It is interesting that you commented on this since I was just talking about this tonight at an art seminar. It seems this debate has two very distinct sides. Since I wrote this blog I have come across two additional artists who copy their own paintings. One did a whole series, all with the same name and no indication that there were multiples (8 maybe more) of the same image. His side thinks that even though the paintings are almost identical, they are originals done by hand so there is no problem. I noticed that all three of these artists are younger and just becoming established. The other side to this argument comes to me from older, more established artists and they are strongly against this practice of copying your own work. Maybe it has to do with age or experience but they think it isn't ethical. There is a fine line between formula and style and copying your own work crosses into mass produced mediocrity. I think it is wise to make a noticeable change to every version that you paint because this is the type of thing that can ruin a career or come back to haunt you later.
All good points Sharon. Thank you for your comments back. Janet
Pablo Picasso, " To copy is necessary but to copy oneself is pathetic."
I had not heard this quote by Picasso. Love it. Thanks Jo.
This scenario happened to me as a collector. My husband and I purchased a painting from a well known gallery in Scottsdale back in the mid-1990's.
A couple of years later, I was looking at this same artists' work online and found a replica of the painting we bought - same size, same exact landscape. The color was slightly different, but it's obvious to me that the artist reproduced the same painting - and not by going back to the spot where it was painting. I believe the one we bought was painted plein air, but I have no proof of it.
So, now every time I look at the painting, I am a bit irritated that the artist took advantage of me and at least one other collector. When we purchase was is sold as original art - it should be a one-of-a-kind work.
That said, I don't have a problem with small studies and larger studio paintings that are produced from those studies. The larger paintings look different, usually have more detail and thought put into them. The small studies are more affordable, but are sometimes better paintings than the final, larger masterpiece.
Thanks Lori for your input. It is an interesting subject with lots of different opinions but I think ultimately the clients reaction is the most important consideration.
Have you told the collector who inspired this very interesting post about the post and the variety of responses you've gotten??
I think he and Lori are kindred spirits!!
I did but I am not sure if he has read it lately. I will email to him about it.
I have been doing a series of paintings of the same scene interpreted in watercolor and in oil. Sometimes they look very much alike, but I like to take advantage of the special properties of each kind of paint. I find the comparison of the two paintings intriguing. Or would this be copying?
I don't think this qualifies as copying. A series is very different. Kevin Macpherson did 365 paintings of the same pond at his home over 5 years but each one is unique. Similarities are there but none are copies of the other. Do your paintings have different names? Did you number them? If so I don't think there would be any problem.
An artist who copies his/her own paintings, which have sold, is clearly doing it for the money. I would surmise that the creative drives and inspirations are dwindling, and/or his/her confidence has waned. Personally, I would get horribly bored working in this way, unless it is to create a series of colour variation linocuts or suchlike, which are all guaranteed to be unique. Overall, I think I would feel cheated if I bought an original artwork and found the artist was reproducing it.
The artists who I know of who copy their own work are quite young and not lacking inspiration but have sold out to make duplicates of the same painting for profit. It is not a good idea but still some artist have developed a formula to their painting that reminds me of the mass produced paintings from China. Yuck!!
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