Several artists have asked me in the last few weeks about “originality”
and how it relates to entering artwork into shows. So many artists misunderstand
rules in art shows because they are vague and poorly written, and often times,
the art show chairmen don’t understand the concept enough themselves to write
clear rules about it. So, I’ve posted a conversation I recently had with one of
my followers in hopes that it will help clear things up for other artists and
I haven't shown my work except for my art group's art show.
However, the comments you mentioned in your article seem to be common sense to
me. One question about source material. Can you use someone else's photo if you
get permission from that person...say if it's a friend?
Annie Strack: That
would depend on a show's rules. Each show has their own rules, although you
often see the same rules with just slight variations in many shows. For the
most part, most shows put it in writing that the entry "must be the
original creation of the artist," and many get much more specific and
state that any reference material used must also be the original creation of
the artist. Many smaller shows and non-juried shows allow artists to more
leeway when entering, but competition is pretty stiff in the more prestigious
shows, and artists are usually required to develop and work with their own
reference material for their paintings.
|(Students in an Annie Strack Workshop in Delaware)|
just to stay with your own reference material and not have to worry about it,
Exactly! Although not all shows require artists to use their own
reference material, it's better to always use your own and then you won't be
limited from entering any shows.
|(Students in an Annie Strack Workshop in Mississippi)|
Question: Annie, I
have another question about this. It is an argument I hear in my painting group
quite often and it is something to the effect that it isn't "copying"
if you change...I think it's something like 25% of the image used. So the idea
is that you can crop an image substantially or paint only a portion of it. Does
this hold any water with art show jurors?
Annie Strack: I hear
that all the time, too, and it's completely false. Most copyright infringement
is a Civil law issue. If an artist thinks they've been copied, they can sue the
copier. Each case is argued and determined individually -- there is no set
formula like a simple math equation. If someone, anyone, can recognize the work of another in an artwork, then the
artist could lawyer up and file a suit, or even just threaten.
|(Students in an Annie Strack workshop in Madisonville)|
But this has nothing to do with art shows -- despite what
some ill-informed art show chairs believe. Art shows are not courts of law, and
art show chairs and committees have no right to determine what is - or is not -
protected by copyrights. Many show chairs and committees confuse the words
"original" and "copyright." This is where the question of
using someone’s photo with permission creates confusion -- is it copyright
infringement? -- no, not with
permission. But -- is it original? -- no.
Art shows must write concise rules and then follow them, and
if they do not write something into their rules then they cannot punish an
entrant for it. Show rules have to specifically state what can or can't be
entered -- rules cannot be made up after the entries are received, nor can they
be enforced retroactively. For instance, if an art show doesn't state that
artwork must be original, then they must not reject something that is copied.
Many artists are students, and they enter work in smaller local or school shows
that they did in classes or workshops.
|(Students in an Annie Strack workshop in Baton Rouge)|
Feedback from outside sources such as local shows is
important for amateur and student artists so that they can continue to learn and
grow. It is quite common for these types of shows to accept copied work,
especially from students. My own students often exhibit work they’ve done in my
classes, and I’m quite flattered by it (Although, I’m not flattered when I see
copies of my paintings by artists who don’t acknowledge or credit me as the
Generally, the smaller local and regional shows are a little
more lax on rules, Local and regional shows tend to have more amateur and
student artists entering, and their shows are more to encourage these artists. The
mission of local art leagues is usually more social and educational, whereas the
mission of artist societies on the national level usually lean more towards rewarding
established professional artists.
National and international shows have big money and credentials
at stake, so they draw the big name professional artists. Competition is stiff,
and the rules are stricter. They usually have very specific wording in their rules
and go into fine details to describe exactly what is eligible, and what is not.
|(Students in an Annie Strack workshop at Nunez College)|
With regard to jurors -- that's a different story! If a
juror recognizes the work as belonging to another artist, or if the juror
thinks the work is partially copied, then she will likely regard it less and
may even dismiss it. Jurors look for originality and creativity as well as
other elements, and most will reject work that they think is not original, even
if it is skillful. Occasionally an inexperienced juror will let copied work
into a show, just as occasionally an inexperienced juror will let bad work into
a show -- jurors aren't perfect. But for the most part, jurors will penalize
work that appears to be unoriginal.
Any time an artist needs to defend their copying -- that is
a sure sign that they've obviously copied too much. There should never be any
question about the originality of an artwork.