Getting Inspired: How to Be Inspired by Other Artists Without Stealing from Them

Getting Inspired: How to Be Inspired by Other Artist Without Stealing from Them
by Dan Day, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

''Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it's the sincerest form of learning.'' - George Bernard Shaw

''Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation.'' - Mason Cooley

''When you do not know what you are doing and what you are doing is the best - that is inspiration.'' - Robert Bresson

These days it is much harder to be original. Living as we do in a global village connected by the Internet, it is very easy to compare creative works from around the globe. It used to be you could create and be original in your own local community. For example, vaudeville performers had a set act they would perform for many years as they traveled from town to town. With the advent of radio and television, their act was consumed by a nationwide audience, opening the door for imitators.

What is the difference between imitation and theft?

Imitation has an important role in learning. Just about every artist of note began by imitating others who broke new ground before them. The evolution and growth of an artist starts by imitating others. For us, how much copying is possible when inspired by the jewelry designs of others? The issue was touched on in the Fire Mountain Gems and Beads article ''Power of Originality'':
Getting Inspired: How to Be Inspired by Other Artists Without Stealing from Them
So, how do you know when your variation or piece derived from a specific inspiration is enough of an original? This can be a tricky process, as it is up to interpretation and sometimes the law when copyrights are involved. Simply changing the colors may not be enough of a difference, as one artist learned in the article ''Can Inspiration Overstep Its Bounds?''? If you think it might look too close to the original, it probably does.

How much can we build on the works of others without stealing? Some artists, such as noted film director Jim Jarmusch, have an open-minded attitude:
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. ... Always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ''It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.'' - MovieMaker Magazine #53 - Winter, January 22, 2004

Creation happens through synthesis--combining things in new combinations--while adding expressions of your own personality and experiences and then, as Godard indicated, taking them to a new place.

Attribution and Permission

There may be times when we have been inspired by the use of a technique, a combination or arrangement of colors and materials that is quite distinctive. Inspired so much we’ve incorporated a significant, recognizable portion into one of our works. There are a couple of ways to keep that portion while not stealing. One is attribution, just as I did with the Jarmusch quote above. In the documentation or signage that accompanies your work, you can give credit to the artist who inspired you. For example:
Lotus and Lilies of Love


You, the Artist

(inspired by the works of Claude Monet)

It will be up to you to decide how specific you want to be in attributing your inspiration. You can be general, as in the example, or explain briefly the specific technique or work you’ve borrowed from. It could have said: Inspired by Water Lilies by Claude. Remember, this will only work as long as your piece is not an exact copy.

Even better is to get permission from the artist. Of course, this would mainly apply to contemporary artists. You could get the permission of an artist’s estate, but frankly you must really want to go to all the effort. Some of the issues of getting permission are discussed in the article ''Ethics in Beadland''

The keys to avoid being accused of stealing are:
  1. Be aware of your influences and how you've used them.
  2. If your work too closely resembles your inspiration, make changes to move away from being a copy. For jewelry designs, there are many great alternative jewelry-making components you can substitute.
  3. If your piece still looks too much like a copy, find a way to acknowledge what you have copied.
The members of art communities are very supportive and your honorable recognition of the works of others will be well received. So, go out and live, gather experiences and use anything that ''resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.''