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
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 www.wetcanvas.com. 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.
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.