Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Original Works for Exhibitions

I know I was going to post on commission portraits this evening, but I'm going to push that post to tomorrow night in favor of a new kerfuffle that's appeared over the past few days. It's something I feel very strongly about: originality and creativity in exhibition pieces.

Most artists who've spent any time with me in person will have heard me rant poetically about how a major fault in colored pencils artists is our shameless reliance on reference photos. I'm not talking about using multiple photos as references, which I do often during my commission portraits -- hey now, this discussion will fit in with my commission portrait theme, I'm so proud of myself -- I'm talking about taking a beautiful photo and using it to create a beautiful colored pencil copy.

Anyway, the current kerfuffle came about because a lot of colored pencil artists have been doing just that, and then entering the piece in juried exhibitions -- and winning prizes. And people started pointing out (rightly, in my opinion), that this wasn't really an original piece they were entering. The credit for the gorgeous color choices, the composition, the subject -- were the original photographer. If the artist hadn't taken the photo themselves, they really couldn't take credit for anything other than the technical act of copying it.

It sounds so logical when I type it out like that.

But apparently, to a lot of people, it's not. So the Colored Pencil Society of America recently instated rules to help crack down on this issue, stating essentially that you couldn't enter a piece that wasn't wholly original. So either from your own photo or so drastically different from the photo that it was obvious that your vision shone through.

But that's not the kerfuffle. The kerfuffle is the UKCPS (that's the colored pencil society for people who talk with snobby accents) and their recent change to their guidelines. Katherine Tyrrell (one of those clever people who talks with a snobby accent) did an exhaustive post on the debate here, but I'll summarize. The UKCPS's new rules are now that your exhibition pieces must be wholly original (sound familiar), but they add that this also means the piece cannot have been

  • completed in a workshop
  • completed with the aid of a teacher
  • posted as a work-in-progress on an online forum or blog where someone has posted any suggestions on how it might be improved
  • influenced by suggestions from artist groups
Bollocks, to borrow a phrase they would understand. I can sympathize with the first two, as I know how much I change and influence my workshop students' visions of their pieces. Moreover, they're usually working from my photos.

But the second two really bother me. Partially, it's because I think the idea of an artist working in a vacuum is silly and unrealistic. The best painters throughout history worked constantly in the company of other artists and closely with their teachers. Just because an artist is poking their head over your shoulder and saying "darken that rear wall" doesn't make a piece less original to the actual working artist.

But the real reason why this bothers me is this: I got my entire artistic education on online forums like Because experienced artists were generous enough to post their works as works-in-progress on the boards and explain themselves. I'm terrified that the UKCPS might leave these idiotic rules in place, because if they do, I guarantee you experienced colored pencil artists will not be posting works in progress on artists' boards anymore. Because if they do, according the UKCPS, they can't enter those pieces in any exhibition. And if most artists are anything like me, we never know until the last minute which pieces we're entering.

So while I don't use WetCanvas for educational purposes anymore, I still feel a debt to them for teaching me what I know. I would hate to see those works-in-progress vanish, because, for hundreds of artists, those online forums are their only opportunity for artistic education. I sincerely hope the UKCPS changes their new rules and that other artistic societies don't feel the need to follow this same route.

Rant over.

By the way, the two images posted are one of my portraits (this one for me, of my dog, Peanut) and of the reference photo I used.


hbedrosian said...

Well said, Maggie. Thank you for posting this.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Hear Hear! I will for once resort to clappies! Thanks for reminding us all of the value of sharing work and that consultation is NORMAL. Collaboration is something else again.

I'm linking you into that exhaustive post I wrote. ;)

I think I'm also going to link back to all the posts again in my big weekly post on Sunday. This is an unprompted but really constructive debate which I believe a lot of people will derive benefit from in the long run.

Belinda Lindhardt said...

I agree Maggie, i wrote a long post about it on ST. The debate is long and hot over there. I too can attribute to most of my learning from forums, its not a nice way of doing things is it :(

Bob Ebdon said...

OK, using my snobbiest voice I will join in. All the UKCPS did was to copy exactly the words of the CPSA rule which states "Conept, design and execution of the work shall be solely that of the artist"

It is the CPSA that says you can't get help - "solely means alone, unaided, entirely solo.

I am getting a bit sick of the UKCPS taking the flack for this when all we were doing was to use the CPSA rule - which nobody seems to have complained about at all and which one Board member has taken it upon herself to Clarify - ie totally change the meaning of the English language.

While that rule remains in the CPSA entry rules, all help IS denied - that is what it says in plain English.

As for the UKCPS, see our blog soon.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Holly - no problem.

Katherine - I think you definitely ought to do a link salad on Sunday.

Belinda - Yeah!

Bob - with all due respect (that's my snobby voice too, only you can't hear my Monty Pythonesque accent that I'm dictating in at the moment), I'm only singling out the UKCPS because of the way that it was further clarified. You're right, the language is the same, but the interpretation is different.

And when it comes down to it, I don't care if it's the UKCPS, the CPSA, the AKC, or the UN -- if any major group decides that posting as a WIP on a public forum makes a piece ineligible for competition, the forums are going to take a huge hit in terms of pro and experienced artists posting there for others to learn from. This devastates me!

goldendhara said...

These rules are plain weird!

For me a reason NOT to join the contest.
It is for me not important to win, important for me is to share the process of making a painting or drawing.

Not to show a WIP any longer is not an option, at least not for me. Sharing, learning, and inspiring other people is for me FAR more important then winning any contest.
Every were around us no matter where we are you are being influenced by the world. And specially in art this is a great thing.
Great Art also does not happen alone in a studio. Great Art can happen any were. It should not matter were it is made or who helped making it. Did Rembrandt paint his paintings alone? No he had helpers completing it. Rodin? and there are more...

So my advise in this matter is. Boycot... Do not sent in your work unless they change the rules to something 'normal', or join a contest where they do not have these weird rules. There are many other contests to join.

visioneerwindows said...

Well, well..... this certainly puts new light into joining, for helping others understand the process of creating and technique is why do WIPs, and certainly am not going to stop....

indeed, well said, Maggie....

Rhonda Bartoe Tucker said...

As someone who often posts my WIP's, some of which have been entered and won competitions upon completion, this concerns me. I think your point is proven, Maggie, as I probably will not post major WIP's on my blog until this issue is resolved. This saddens me as I think it's what my readers enjoy most.

Quilt Knit said...

I am with Bob Ebdon. Any piece that is presented to a Contest wanting to be considered High Caliber with or without a Snobby accent, should never accept a piece that is shared first. It should be the artist piece wholly raw to that particular artist. The Artist piece, wholly alone, in its execution and how it was chosen with no outside interference. I have been in many classes before the internet, before any Wet Canvas and the discussion of entries to the up and coming Specialist Shows- CPSA infancy, and works artist create as "WIP". All of those artist said they would sell the work, but would never submit the work for a Contest as a sample of their best work. That it would be disrespectful to their knowledge and ability to create. Yes, I have been in shows helped hang and been standing there listening to those that have stated, "I just had to enter, so I took one of my old College Class pieces, I think it is better than anything I can do now." How sad to actually hang that piece. More sad when the guest judge says, "Did you do piece in my Class?" Yes, very sad. Yes, there are wonderful beautiful well done WIPs. Well, I would like to invite all of you to join my New Groups----
"WIP-USA" and "WIP-EURO" and "WIP-AA, Asia- Africa. I should be able to present "The Rules" by July to Honor My GrandMother's Birthday. It will be the first wholly Digital contest. You will have to prove it was a "WIP" in progress. Will get back to you on this. Have a great CSPA-UKCPS.

Margaret in SC said...

Well this is a sad clarification indeed and probably explains why I haven't seen your WIPs over at WC though I check often for them. Your work is always and inspiration to me--watching it progress from stage to stage informs my own vision of my own art. I know for a fact that at least one budding artist, my daughter, was significantly affected by viewing your works in progress on see she is an artist in developmental stages, still finding her voice and casting about for experimental techniques. It is artists like yourself, sharing yourself, that enable an artist to grow. Aristotle-"Nature abhors a vacuum." From -This idiom is used to express the idea that empty or unfilled spaces are unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics. humans don't develop in a vacuum no matter what the pursuit.

vivien said...

very well put Maggie and I totally agree - I said very similar things in my last blog post with regard to how I work.

Feedback from friends and fellow artists has always existed and is healthy - the advice is often not taken but the thinking around an idea that it provokes is so useful.

Rafi said...

I agree with Maggie on this.

This touches on an interesting subject that I have blogged about before - when is an artist's work his and can fabrication be done by a contractor or craftsman to his specification. Here we have the opposite situation where we are asking whether the artist can work to another's specification. As long as the the work is his interpretation of that other's idea, the work is the artist's own. I just wrote another blog post on this specific question now.

Karen Thumm said...

I'm inclined to agree with you, Maggie, that those last two rules are a little strict perhaps, but I do think they have a valid point.

Sure, artists don't exist in a vacuum and do learn from one another. No one forces us to accept suggestions from other artists; we do so only if they make sense to us so in that sense we choose what we put into our work and what we don't, regardless of where the idea or thought came from.

And then there's the other side of the coin.

I don't participate at Wetcanvas but on the Equine Art Guild forum we often share WIPs and use suggestions from other members. Those works have often been entered in shows and won awards.

However, over the past year I personally began to feel uncomfortable about using suggestions from others. I began to feel that the resulting work wasn't entirely my own. So, I've made the decision not to post WIPs anymore or to specify that I didn't want them critiqued. I would prefer to agonize over my art, make mistakes and learn from them. I do think you learn better if you figure things out for yourself.

Maybe that's an overly purist view, but it is a personal one pertaining to my own artwork. So, what it comes down to is that I have a foot on both sides of this fence. There is merit in each point of view.

Gillian McMurray said...

I am so glad to see that you got your artistic education from online tutorials. It shows the skill that can be acheived with the help of those more experienced artists. The new rules are certainly a concern for those of us who use those tutorials.