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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reference VS. Outta My Head

I posted the following on DeviantArt and am waiting for the potential backlash. I don't have many watchers over there, so I doubt it'll create a stink. But it IS a legitimate concern I have. Let me know what you think:

"In the extensive browsing I've done here on dA, I noticed how far I have to go to reach my full artistic potential. Some pretty amazing stuff on here! But then I realized that the major disconnect in my art and "theirs" is the extensive use (legal or otherwise) of reference material for the completion of many of these works. As I work mostly out of my head, but don't disdain use of reference, I found my work doesn't compare to many for this really basic reason. Most of my art is doodled when I don't have access to reference, or when I want to preserve a stylistic approach that reference would affect.

I have noticed repaints over copyrighted photography or artwork, blatant redraws of anime/manga pages, and impressively-drawn/finished digital art that may or may not have used "reference material" in the completion process. Reference material is to be looked at for inspiration, not to be ripped directly from the source material. Now, I know such a staunch position on use of reference can't be all that popular in this community. I doubt many people who misuse reference will respond to this message unless they are angrily defending their process or angrily denying their process. So in that case, please don't bother commenting. I mean no personal disrespect. Your methods, while they may garner much attention and praise, simply are not my methods.

I could discuss at length how the beloved Masters used mirrors and other tricks to exactly copy the portraits of their subjects onto the canvas, and that these methods were considered acceptable for accuracy's sake. It wasn't the resulting "copied" drawings that made the Masters... Masters. It was the finishing of the work. But when photography came into existence, the need for accurate recording of an individual's face by an artist dissipated. Art was freed to be more organic and less "perfect." (That's just the Master's degree talkin'. Teachin' art is a habit and one-time profession.)

Now, apparently the "change three things" rule exonerates copiers from the copyright laws. And, more apparently, as long as an artist doesn't make money from that art, it's okay. (The originator of the character or concept COULD sue you for damages, especially if your work is wildly popular.) You're not going to see someone paint a near-exact work of the Mona Lisa and expect someone to believe they originated the concept. Also, I do not count useful "Master's Copies" among blatant copyright infringement. They have their place in a student artist's skills development. Sharing techniques, skills and procedures is an age-old method of creating improved artistic techniques, skills and procedures. And deviantArt is very generous in this respect. So even THAT isn't the issue.

I think, at the core of what bothers me, is that some artists soak up praise for their work and don't readily admit that they used or abused the reference process. Why? Because they wouldn't get as much praise for it. I'm not good at keeping up pretenses. If I use reference for more than it's basic intention, I'll let you know. And if you've read this far and would like to answer my questions, I welcome your opinions...

Now, I know we're all "deviants" here, but at what point does use of reference lose it's respectful position in artistic society? Do you agree that money-making is the fine line between okay and not okay? Or is over-use of reference without commentary a breach of trust to viewers, who think some artists are awesome without basis?

Curious as to what all...2 or 3 of you will think! :)"


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