Monday, June 25, 2012

I know, I'm over-thinking it...

One of the questions raised by my post about making similar work to another artist was along the lines of "why is this a problem?". The comment was made by Sophie Harle, a potter who, under the label Shikomakes gorgeous ceramic vessels like this...

Sophie Harle bowls

and has the best ever whippet named Colin.

Colin

Knowing Sophie I know the intent in her comment was supportive, in a very justified get-over-it-and-on-with-it way. But it has prompted me to give greater consideration to my reaction on finding work so similar to my own. 

There is no doubt that at the heart of the matter was a fear of being perceived to have copied. I didn't and of course I shouldn't worry what others think, but it's a fairly human and understandable response. Beyond this, however, is the issue of work being "derivative". Such an interesting area this one, particularly for ceramics. The Oxford Dictionary defines derivative as "imitative of the work of another artist, writer, etc. and usually disapproved of for that reason" but also as "originating from, based on, or influenced by".

Given that craft, by it's own definition, draws and expands on accumulated knowledge, all ceramics could, in some ways, be called derivative. I don't think that second definition is such a bad thing. I often hear the words 'everything has been done before' which may be true but to be honest I find this a little depressing and defeatist. I can't imagine it's a phrase thrown around the offices at Apple. Certainly in the field of functional pottery there are only so many ways you can shape a bowl but with progress I do hope imagination and creativity are also areas that expand, evolve and seek new ground.

Bridget Fairbank Caribou Set

On her wonderful blog bpracticalpottery the potter Bridget Fairbank (that's her work above) recently wrote "Contemporary pottery is challenged by a history of traditional functionality in the sense of its structure. To create unique, good work within this finitely structured and ancient system of art, is an incredible feat and a dubious endeavor."  I agree and don't make pots to be intentionally original. I make pots to explore ideas in my own way, using the knowledge I have acquired from personal practise, from history and from other artists. But I would be lying to myself if I didn't admit to a quiet desire to express myself in a way that is unique.

I am over-thinking it and going around it circles. I make pots because most of the time it feels good and sometimes it also feels good to think about it too.

8 comments:

Anna said...

It is an interesting problem - being original in an art form with such a history behind it. I do think that when things are handmade on the wheel or by the slab or coil methods, the piece becomes like handwriting which is individual even when using the same letters and ink.

Andrew said...

Your last two posts have had me thinking about this paranoia of copying. It's something that I was ever aware of when I was making thin Northern European style vessels. And I remember my amazement when studying a few years ago, a fellow student accused me of copying him. Either he was arrogant or ignorant, probably both. I was making pretty standard/common footed bowls with flared rims. Anyway, not worth worrying about, just frustrating when someone makes unwarranted assertions.
So thinking about my concern. Seems to me it's only been an issue since Lucie Rie. Bernard Leach (the grandfather of studio pottery) preached about the merits of going back to making Medieval style pottery (with the inclusion of Japanese brushwork). Japan, Korea etc. have an apprentice system that works on copying the Master. And if I could make a perfect copy of The Kizaemon Tea-bowl I'd be satisfied to the point of chucking it all in and becoming that Accountant Mum always wanted me to be.
If you were Lucie Rie and someone made work similar to you, you’d probably take it as a compliment. I think it's only people that are jealous that accuse others of copying. As Anna's comment says, anything you make is “like handwriting which is individual even when using the same letters and ink”.
If you relied on copying because you were unable to create for yourself, your not going to enjoy what your doing anyway, and ultimately you 'aint fooling anyone anyway. So keep going. Don't take a detour because your worried about accusers. Your well known in your peer group, and probably more than anyone else, as an innovator and guide for others.
That said, can you make me a set of Lucie Rie knock offs. I'll go and flog them and finally make enough money to make Mum happy.

Sophie Milne said...

Thanks Anna and Andrew for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate the encouragement and don't feel deterred or too worried about empty accusations. I think a lot of time is given to intellectual rhetoric when it comes to analysis of art practises. And although I hesitate to publicly voice personal emotions I do think they are part and parcel of the creative path I attempt to illustrate in this blog and therefore worthy of consideration and perhaps debate.
Cheers

Linogirl said...

I can understand your concerns and over thinking of this issue but all that tells me is that your really care about the integrity of your practice.

Anyone that follows your work can pick one of your pieces and know that it's yours without turning it over. The fact that have produced work that is quiet similar to another artist may be true but what is also true is that the work in question sings clearly to me Sophie Milne it's true to your style and obviously great minds think alike.

There are other artists out there of late that obviously see nothing wrong with copying other peoples ideas to the point that their studio work looks like it's a line up of a number of different accomplished ceramists.this makes me very cross and a bit sad.

Don't be too concerned by this coincidence because that is all it is.

Linogirl said...

I can understand your concerns and over thinking of this issue but all that tells me is that your really care about the integrity of your practice.

Anyone that follows your work can pick one of your pieces and know that it's yours without turning it over. The fact that have produced work that is quiet similar to another artist may be true but what is also true is that the work in question sings clearly to me Sophie Milne it's true to your style and obviously great minds think alike.

There are other artists out there of late that obviously see nothing wrong with copying other peoples ideas to the point that their studio work looks like it's a line up of a number of different accomplished ceramists.this makes me very cross and a bit sad.

Don't be too concerned by this coincidence because that is all it is.

sophie said...

A bowl is a bowl. But while it might be nothing new, a beautiful bowl sings and will bring tears to your eyes.

I feel like we worry too much with our heads. We forget that what potters do is take a moment, an instant on the wheel and hold it still for a thousand years. It's a pretty amazing job!

And every day we all make a little bit of progress, we understand a little more, and get a little bit closer to making that bowl that sings. But i'm not in a rush and i'd much rather be at the wheel struggling with a form that's been made by thousands of potters before me, than in the offices at Apple :)

bpracticalpottery said...

I don’t think you are over-thinking it at all. This is however coming form some one who routinely thinks and talks in circles. I have had that- “Ak, It has all been done before!” feeling. The main job of an artist is to reinterpret and shed new light old things with new ideas. This can only be done by accepting and recognizing what influences you. It is important to recognize that there are probably people out there like you thinking along the same lines, possibly even other artists and so they could be coming up with similar things. They ARE coming up with similar things. I reckon that should be a comfort and flattering (as long as a saturated market isn’t going to make your business fail if we want to get proper business potter on it). You’ve got some kindred spirits out there. Pottery itself was invented in different parts of the world at similar times- and that was before anything was done. They all had a clean slate and what do we find in museums but archetypal forms. Similar motifs and forms being used all over the world when these potters had no possible communication or connection (today we have blogs, galleries, books and etsy. We live in a climate of even more intense sharing) Why should a modern day potter have any more right to originality than an ancient one?

I like this notion of the derivative, but it sounds a bit computative to me. In our potting community sharing is seen as a healthy way to learn and support and promote pottery making, we rely on our strength and skills as individual artists to make us and our work unique. I have to believe that if we have the same glaze and have trained under the same potter and are capable of making that same forms that our work will be intrinsically different because we are different people. It is the conviction of individuality that is so dwelled upon in our society and oddly that allows this sort of open learning and at the same time undermines it. Because, are we really that different? I think the key is knowing you are a capable artist, capable of change and improvement in any climate. Your work is yours and its ancient undertones and references and modern day inspirations give is strength and integrity. We need to be aware of other peoples work as to not blatantly step to hardly on someone else's tip toes and promote an open dialogue.

I am really glad your brought this up. It needs to be thought about!

bpracticalpottery said...

I don’t think you are over-thinking it at all. This is however coming form some one who routinely thinks and talks in circles. I have had that- “Ak, It has all been done before!” feeling. The main job of an artist is to reinterpret and shed new light old things with new ideas. This can only be done by accepting and recognizing what influences you. It is important to recognize that there are probably people out there like you thinking along the same lines, possibly even other artists and so they could be coming up with similar things. They ARE coming up with similar things. I reckon that should be a comfort and flattering (as long as a saturated market isn’t going to make your business fail if we want to get proper business potter on it). You’ve got some kindred spirits out there. Pottery itself was invented in different parts of the world at similar times- and that was before anything was done. They all had a clean slate and what do we find in museums but archetypal forms. Similar motifs and forms being used all over the world when these potters had no possible communication or connection (today we have blogs, galleries, books and etsy. We live in a climate of even more intense sharing) Why should a modern day potter have any more right to originality than an ancient one?

I like this notion of the derivative, but it sounds a bit computative to me. In our potting community sharing is seen as a healthy way to learn and support and promote pottery making, we rely on our strength and skills as individual artists to make us and our work unique. I have to believe that if we have the same glaze and have trained under the same potter and are capable of making that same forms that our work will be intrinsically different because we are different people. It is the conviction of individuality that is so dwelled upon in our society and oddly that allows this sort of open learning and at the same time undermines it. Because, are we really that different? I think the key is knowing you are a capable artist, capable of change and improvement in any climate. Your work is yours and its ancient undertones and references and modern day inspirations give is strength and integrity. We need to be aware of other peoples work as to not blatantly step to hardly on someone else's tip toes and promote an open dialogue.

I am really glad your brought this up. It needs to be thought about!