A RESPONSE TO “COPYING VS. STEALING”

(For the sake of clarity, I republished this article a day after “WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again”. I didn’t move it very well, and I may have lost some comments. I apologize, they were GREAT!!)

A Response to Kerrie Venner’s article, “Copying vs. Stealing”

I just discovered an article on the International Polymer Clay Association’s website, written by Kerrie Venner, IPCA Vice President for Education and Outreach. Kerrie’s article is here.

The article talked about my artwork and a blog article I wrote about my work being copied. Kerrie refers to me as an example of an artist who has published directions for making my artwork who then gets “antsy” when people copy it. She states that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with coveting my little totem animals, then making her own versions for her own use, and even to sell, since her customers probably aren’t familiar with my work anyway.

At first I was delighted to read Kerrie’s wonderful comments about my blog and my artwork. But that delight quickly turned to dismay.

Her article is an interesting take on a very complex and emotional issue.

Just to correct a few errors:

1. Kerrie’s article simply linked to the home page of my blog. My article Kerrie that refers to in her article is WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? and the correct url is http://luannudell.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/what-is-the-story-only-you-can-tell/ I discuss why someone who copies another artist’s work is actually short-changing their own creative journey.

2. Contrary to Kerrie’s assertions, I’ve actually only published directions featuring my faux ivory technique (a modification of the technique originally developed by Victoria Hughes.) I provided directions for very simple beads, buttons and bones. Photographs of my animal artifacts and jewelry were for illustration and inspiration only.

3. I have never published projects or taught how to make my artifacts and animal totems, for the very reasons Kerrie mentions in support of her viewpoint: It might imply permission for others to copy my work.

I could address each of Kerrie’s statements and questions separately, and will do so in a future blog article. But here’s the short story:

I’ve done the hard work creating this body of work. I spent years perfecting my craft. Inspired by imagery available to everyone, it is nonetheless a highly original and individual interpretation and presentation. As Kerrie points out, it has a powerful, personal narrative, describing my journey from a place of pain (at not practicing my art), to a place of healing (embracing my unique vision, and sharing with others how that happened.)

I’ve done the hard work to get my work out there. And I’ve spent a lot of money doing that. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to do the high-end shows to sell it. I go to great lengths to find galleries to carry it. I’ve spent thousands of hours marketing, writing, speaking, entering exhibits and juried shows, and submitting work for publication to support and grow my reputation. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to have my work professionally photographed, to construct a booth and create beautiful displays for it.

I’ve spent years developing a loyal following of customers, collectors and supporters. I am deeply moved by the role my art has played in their lives. I love the stories they share with me on how much my work has meant to them, how much it has inspired them, how it has healed them.

I’ve earned my stars and paid my dues. My work-and my prices–reflect that.

We artists may make our art for love or money, or both. But it’s hard to make art without some kind of support from our community, be it emotional, spiritual, or financial.

Kerrie says she admires and desires my artwork. I am truly grateful for that. There are many ways a true supporter can help me get my art out into the world:

1) Tell me how much it means to you, and respect the unique place in my heart it comes from. Tell your friends, too, and point them to my blog, my website or my store.

2) Spread the word about my work by writing great reviews and articles.

3) Buy it for yourself, or for a special gift.

4) If you really can’t afford my work (prices start at $42, and I have a great layaway plan), encourage potential collectors to buy it instead. Or ask friends and family to buy it for you. Christmas is coming!

5) Ask your favorite gallery or museum store to carry my work. Or suggest they include me in an invitational show. Or even a solo show

Actually, the list is endless: Invite me to speak to your local or regional art guild. Ask your public library to purchase the books that feature my work. Hire me for a private consult on your artist statement. Alert me to publishing opportunities. Etc., etc., etc.

Unfortunately, copying my work doesn’t support me.

Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.

Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.

In fact, someone copying my artwork short-circuits everything I’m trying to achieve. That is where the pain and the resentment comes from. And that is what I have to get over, and get through, every time it happens.

In the end, although my work is copyrighted, it’s almost impossible for me to protect those rights. I don’t have the deep pockets of Disney, and I don’t have the time or emotional energy to spare. I have to save that energy and focus for my art.

Some amount of copying has its place in the learning process. That’s why a teacher provides a project for a class.

But a body of work based solely on some “variation” of someone else’s work is not the work of your own heart, your own unique vision.

Kerrie’s article was written without my knowledge and did not link to what I actually said. I cannot adequately convey how disheartening it is to see these views-justifying the right to copying my work simply because I have made it visible in the world–expressed by someone who is Vice President of the International Polymer Clay Association’s Education and Outreach Committee.

Kerrie is entitled to her viewpoint, and I appreciate the opportunity to present mine. As she and I both said, this is a complex issue, involving human nature, the creative process and ethics.

Whether or not Kerrie’s reflects the views of the IPCA organization, it was published on their site and incorrectly referred to me as an example of a disgruntled artist who sets herself up for being copied by offering her artwork as projects and classes. Since I’m not one of “those artists”–who are also entitled to their own opinions about others copying their work–and especially because I have consciously chosen not to…that allegation was neither true nor fair.

I’m thrilled Kerrie loves my work. I hope someday she decides my artwork is worthy of collecting for herself. I would be truly honored.

And…I would feel truly supported.

2 P.S.’s (What the heck is the plural of “P.S.”???)
It’s been brought to my attention that Kerrie didn’t mean she would actually copy my work–she was speaking aloud the thought process that many have expressed. So in a sense, she was speaking as “Everyman/Everywoman”. And she never intended these remarks to represent her, or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.

Again, I’m glad she voiced these thoughts so we can talk about it.

And please, please don’t bash Kerrie! :^)

P.S. For the latest take on this, see WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

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6 Comments

Filed under art, body of work, choices, copycats, craft, creativity, mental attitude, mindfulness, telling your story, What is the story only you can tell?

6 responses to “A RESPONSE TO “COPYING VS. STEALING”

  1. Dear Luann,
    In the mysterious ways of life, painful encounters can teach us about ourselves. I find it no coincidence that I was also having revelations about the boundaries of what I wish to share, and how to communicate this with students. I commend both Kerrie and yourself for the truth in your words and the courage in posting thoughtful articles on a difficult subject. Telling the truth is very hard but the essential ingredient in understanding. As for copying, most people do not understand where to draw the line, and that line changes with each different set of goals and rewards. Yes, I will share if you support me. No, you are not entitled to share if you do not. But where are the boundaries in sharing? Recently I have been worried about selling my first video for fear of it being copied and distributed. This is my income. I shouldn’t have to worry that someone else will ‘give’ it away. I have worked a long time for this – I need to benefit from my work. As a single mother – my children need for me to benefit from my work. It is true that this particular ‘fear’ of losing what you’ve worked for- holds artists back. But the video teaches a specific technique and the purpose of the video is to learn. So using the technique is also the purpose. And in making my video it is my purpose to share the knowledge and receive the reward. But it is not the purpose of my video for a student to look at my best work and copy whatever they like from my display or website, or to diminish my teaching potential. If you were a guest in a person’s house would you wear that person’s wardrobe?

    After 20 years of being very exposed and sharing unconditionally, recently I found myself pulling things from my display and hiding them from my students. Let me tell you why. It HURT to see a copy. It is the same feeling as heartache. All intellect aside, the emotion experienced, was HURT. The student copying my work was my FRIEND, and the work she copied (which wasn’t even polymer clay!)– well there is a 100% possibility that knowing us both – she definitely would have asked if she could copy it – and knowing me – I would have said yes because I thought we are in different markets and I have lots of other designs……..I truly couldn’t remember the details at that moment. But it was a very personal piece, one I haven’t even finished yet. I have never worn it. So when she came to my class wearing it, I am sure she was doing that as a compliment to me. And she commented how she got the design from me and loved it. But it broke my heart to see my design around her neck before I had even finished or worn it. It’s not her fault – she didn’t know how I was feeling even though I had a lump in my throat and my face must have fallen to the floor. The first feeling I felt was guilt. Guilt I hadn’t finished my necklace or published it yet. Guilt I hadn’t recognized it as something dear to me. But the message is clear. This was the ‘universe’ telling me that I don’t want or need to share EVERYTHING. It’s totally OK to reserve a boundary, and just because you teach or publish, the things you have worked hard and long on – you alone deserve the reward or acknowledgement. From now on I am going to be very specific about the things I wish to use in instruction and the art I reserve as my voice. And for me that is a very big leap. My friend has been the catalyst to my learning and I am very grateful. Like the tin man, I discovered some of my work embodies my heart, because I have felt it breaking. And like the tin man, I am rejoicing I have found my heart – and there are pieces of me that I only wish to share – not loose.

    I have never stated things like this before because I sell books and rubber stamps and molds and classes. I did not want students to be afraid to use my designs or product. That would kill my joy and my income! And they are angel – which means you can make art and sell the art you make using those tools. And this is what I live for. But as for art that is dear to me, I am going to try with as much grace as possible to explain that some of those pieces embody my heart and I alone carry the entitlement to that work.

    As ever,
    Barbara

    • Barbara, it means so much to me to have your support and good thoughts in this. Your book, “Foundations in Polymer Clay Design”, was one of the first books my work appeared in, and you have always been a “polymer hero” to me! :^) Thank you for sharing your take on this issue so clearly and so passionately. I truly appreciate it.

  2. (This is a comment emailed to me from Annette Andres, which I’m reprinting here with her permission.)

    Luann,
    I get your Feedblitz articles sent to my email and always appreciate your thoughtful writing. Sorry you are having this stress going on. I hope you’ll continue to share in all the ways you do. Let all this pass through and don’t hang on to it. This stress isn’t worth any more of your time.
    I read once about generosity being a factor in generating creative flow.
    The thing you have is that you generate and create ideas/thoughts and things and as much as another person can outright take your directions and make exact copies, they don’t have the ability to be the creator as you are and so you need to continue being generous and also generating/creating.
    Years ago I made lots of Santa doll/puppets that I created from scratch and one time a lady bought one and gushed on about how great it was and as she left she blurted out “I’m going to send this to my daughter and she is going to take it all apart and use it as a pattern so she can make lots of them to sell”. I was so dumbfounded I just stared open mouthed as she left but I wanted to run up and snatch it away from her. After I thought about it awhile I came to the conclusion that the daughter would see all the work involved and never follow through. I’d never gone so far as making a name for myself as you do and so it might have come to pass that this lady’s daughter could have outright stolen my design but I never found that it happened.
    People who admire you and your work will want to own a genuine Luann Udell piece, not a copy.
    Annette

  3. pat

    I like your jewelry, like it enough that I have bought it before and and am interested to see what you might have for sale. Unfortunately, your links to your shop do not lead to your art. Neither does putting your name in the shop directory.

    Since you are making a living selling I hope to see the link back soon.

    Thanks
    Pat

    • Pat, thank you so much for the heads-up!

      I just checked them out. The link to my website is fine, I’m not sure why it wasn’t working for you. Ah, the mysteries of the internet…. :^) I will keep an eye on this, please let me know if the link continues not to work for you and I’ll explore further.

      You’re right about the shop link. One week ago, Amazon sold its 1000 Markets to Bonanza. I had two days to shift my shop there and then get ready for my Open Studio today. I see that Bonanza did not honor the link to my actual shop, but to Bonanza’s general portal. Thank you so much for alerting me to this–I’ll make those corrections asap.

      And thank you for collecting my artwork–I hope you are still enjoying your piece. :^)

  4. I think Annette hit on something important: People can copy all they want, but what they create will NEVER approach the qualities and magic inherent in the original. Why? The copier is not you (or me, or Annette, or…name your artist.) There is a connection we each have to our own creations that comes through when someone purchases our items. In a copy, that extra depth will not be there. It’s true–some people are not aware at all of this connection–but plenty are.

    My designs–from my cards to my decorated boxes to my jewelry–are all unique to me. I don’t use patterns, so I don’t share my patterns. There’s really nothing to steal from me, except to copy, bead for bead, one of my pieces. I feel that would be difficult, however, because for the most part, I work with found, recycled, and vintage/antique components–things that are not easy to find again.

    Except for my photography, I really am not worried about someone copying me. I’d be very angry if they did, but I don’t see someone being able to copy my product lines and sell them on their own. It would be too costly for them to do so. Rather than being angry–though there would probably be some of that–I would feel sorry for them. Clearly, someone who chooses to copy another artist is missing something essential to the artistic life and process, and that is a huge hole to have in one’s soul!

    Now, if I were to teach, I would simply do so, but only in the very broadest terms. I would share HOW I did it, but not where I got my materials and what they are made from (unless it’s really obvious what they are made from.)

    I’m willing to share my art, but I am not willing to give it away.

    Happy creating!
    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

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