From time to time, the subject of plagiarism comes up on my scope, and I feel it begs addressing — so I hope to shed a little light on the matter. 

The definition of plagiarism is, according to Oxford Dictionary: “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”

Having had a lengthy background in advertising, branding and design, I’m well aware of the ease with which indiscretions and infringements occur. Young designers, inspired by a concept, or because they can’t think of one themselves within pressing time constraints, occasionally resort to copying, which can get them and their agency into hot water. 

As an artist, when we’re dabbling with a new medium or trying new techniques, we might likewise be inspired by the reference imagery we’re using — indeed we might be tempted to copy the reference image almost as is. Years ago, the most exposure one’s doodles might get would be with a local art group, family and friends perhaps. Today, however, with the advent of social media, it’s an entirely different story, where just one post can reach far and wide, maybe even reaching the originator of our reference imagery. Oops, that’s how we land in trouble! 

As the pic above portrays, many artists visit galleries with the intention of copying artworks, so that they might learn composition, techniques, colour palettes and so on from the Great Masters.

The rule of thumb here would be to copy perhaps a section of the original or alter the dimensions or format of the original work. In doing so, copying the original artist’s work would not be construed as a forgery, rather a study.

So, if one sets out to try something new, using an existing artwork one has come across on Pinterest as reference, then use it only for the purposes of, say the colour palette or a certain technique used, with other references for composition, subject etc. 

As a comparison, with any published written works, references are always made to source material used, and the same should apply when we are sharing artwork that cuts a fine line between original and copied works.

All the reference I use for my artwork, for example, aside from one or two instances where I’ve gained permission from the photographer, are from my own origination — whether it’s seascapes or landscapes, I capture all the imagery myself, usually amounting to hundreds of pics. Intuitive works are my safest bet though — and abstracts all the better!

At the end of the day, we might use many influences and references in our work, but we should never copy someone else’s and call it our own.

I do hope this short article helps in some way, although for further reading, do visit the following link: 

Guy McGowan
WASA representative in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

2 replies on “Plagiarism”

If you are talented enough to copy work, you are talented enough to create your own

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