Creativity is cool: copying isn’t

I’m seeing many media stories about the unattributed use of images, composition, layout — plagiarism — in visual arts & writing. Why? Maybe because some folks don’t understand what constitutes homage & what is theft.

Your work must be original – not a copy of other’s work. Using or closely imitating the works of another artist – literary, visual, musical – without authorization or crediting the original artist is, well, unacceptable.

final copy copy

It’s also not good business. Be inspired by others, sure! But let the inspiration generate work that is uniquely your own, so your audience loves your work. Copying a calendar image or someone else’s painting demonstrates you’re a copyist, not an artist. It can be a good learning exercise, but selling such work or passing it off as your own is theft of another’s creativity.

Find The Secret to true originality at Painter’s Keys, an art blog worth following. For another article with wonderful imagery & examples see “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Not so fast. Learn to share your world vision. Inspire others. Don’t steal.


  1. Good info and direction but I personally get my inspiration from global photography references that fall into my area of interest and I look to some favorite artists for tips and general education in the style and materials I would like to persue.
    I cannot paint a horse one day, a guitar the next and a landscape the next just to be different or deemed original. An incredible amount of information, classes, styles and materials are out there and I try and use them all at my age to draw and paint “happy” as long as I can and I am simply self taught like many members.
    We enjoy the greatest creative hobby in the world so let it flow, who will say my/our work is not original..I am painting a walking wolf right now and to be sure there are 50,000 paintings of them out there already in North America alone…point is mine is mine and it took my techniques, desire, learning, materials, time & research et al to get it done and to our doors.
    It will not be a “COPY”
    Paint on…!


    • Paint on indeed!! And as far as enjoying “the greatest creative hobby in the world” of course!! But the idea of “originality”is the point being discussed here.

      “Who will say my/our work is not original.” – I would suggest the photographer that took the picture of the “walking wolf” you are looking at when painting might say so. I know I would. I would say it is my composition that dictates originality much more than the technical issues of my medium. My techniques, materials, desire, learning, etc, as yours, are not something to be diminished, quite the contrary, they are paramount in fine arts, but they are not sufficient to determine “originality”.

      The question is one of ethics (and sometimes a legal one). Painting a copy of a photograph or of another painting is fine as a personal exercise, but it remains a copy. The technique may be yours but the composition is not.

      If you are going to offer the work for public viewing or even for sale, just as you will want to sign it, ethics will dictate that you also credit the original composition to the original artist. A copy that is not acknowledged is a fraud. A copy that credits the original is an homage and demonstrates great respect for the arts and the artists.

      I would much rather work in a culture of respect and I would suggest that as an art organization, it is our responsibility to foster such a culture.


  2. Some thing to ponder. There are sites such as Paint My Photo where you can legally use someone else’s photo. Supposing you do this and end up with a very nice painting. So then you enter that painting into an exhibit featuring other artists. And perhaps you see the same photo that you used has also been painted by one of the other artists, maybe in the same media, maybe not, but still taken from the exact same photo. If it is in a juried show, which work would be considered an original? Would either be considered an original?


    • Interesting query. One would hope both “artists” would make the work their own by adjusting mood, impression, colour and, perhaps, composition. Copying the photo in a manner so slavish that it clearly resembles another’s “take” on the original photo suggests both artists haven’t stretched enough.


      • Good point, Composition and changes of it from the photo would have to be key I’d think. In my 3 years of art school, composition, meaning your own and how to do it, was very strongly stressed. Why bother if it is not that important?


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