One of my early mentors in the arts once told me a story about her artist friend that used to come by her studio and show a lot of interest in her work. He actually showed a lot of interest for every one of the local artist’s works and was a regular visitor to their studios too. Just a friendly nosy guy.
At the time of his visit, she was in the midst of working on a new series that was built on a quite interesting concept of showing flat paintings on canvases. Without going into too much detail, the point was that she used the whole canvas, not only the front surface, to build and convey her narrative.
They talked about this shift of perspective and — as the series was still in its beginnings — most of what was discussed were ideas and concepts, not as much the technicalities of the works themselves.
It was a nice chat and after their conversation ended he left as he did many times before. She continued with her paintings, giving absolutely zero thought to the whole thing. Little did she know, what was about to unfold. I can tell you though, it wasn’t going to be pretty.
Less than a month after his visit, her artist friend announced a new exhibition in one of the local galleries. But there was a problem that only she understood. The issue was, that the theme of the exhibition were 3D painted canvases, curiously akin to those that she was still painting away at in order to eventually reveal to her gallerists and the local art community.
He got praised for his ingenious approach to painting, a few collectors bought his work and she, well, she learned to never let another artist into your studio when you’re working on a fresh series or anything new for that matter.
But, even though what happened to her was far from fair or nice, I think we need to discuss a very important distinction between what her and a bunch of other artists have suffered from, because of being nice to their “artist friends” and what is happening, or at least should be happening now.
If before you had a very slow and tedious process of informing your collectors, fans and just the general public of your new work and whatever else you were up to, now your info can go live in a matter of seconds — all you need is a phone, some wi-fi and any social media account.
What happened to her could not have happened, had all her work been visible on social media. Because to share what you do makes it impossible for people that live in your community to do the same thing and call it their own. It’s just too easy to get caught.
But what about the people that don’t live where I’m from, they’ll see my work and rip off my style till kingdom come!?
I hear a lot of people I know discuss the troubles of showing their work online, because then people like the twat from the beginning of this story will come in like vultures, steal anything that is of value and reap all of the rewards for being innovative.
There are really two points here.
The first one is that people steal ideas; Picasso was maybe half the inventor we think he was, so was almost even other well known artist in history — they all stole form one another, and nobody cried about it because that’s what competition looks like.
But now we have the internet and the magic of being connected with the whole world gives us the ability to also know what kind of art is being made around the world so that we can copy the things we like and use other people’s inventions and techniques to further our own art.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Why? Because the second point here is: how could Michael form Arizona feel his business loosing momentum because a random artist from the slav countries of Central Europe copied his use of pigment or his colour pallet — even if I copied exactly what he does and just written my name under it?
The point is, his place of business is so disconnected of my own market that it has absolutely no effect of either one of us. In fact, it might even help both of us, if we used each other’s knowledge and skill and used it in our own work.
Today’s economy is a shared economy, and that doesn’t only mean sharing your apartment and car with strangers that might be in need of one, it also means shearing ideas. Because, to be honest, ideas are worthless if not applied in the right way and the right time and place. But the best part; there are many right moments and places for ideas, never just the one you or I may think is going to be our advantage and therefore has to be hidden and locked away.
I strongly believe those of us who are willing to share all that we’ve got, will end up with the most abundance, and hiding our creativity in fear of it being stolen and repurposed in the end only steals away our momentum, not our ingenuity.