Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who Owns an Idea?

My husband & I went to B&N Saturday night, where I did my fave thing (drank a green tea frappaccino while reading the newest mags) and talking with him about the art world. His conclusion, after we had a lovely discussion regarding "ownership" of new ideas in the clay world, is that the World of Polymer Clay is a Woman's World.
Now here's what we were talking about-
I really love Christie Friesen's work. And it makes me sick to my stomach too. I mean angry, nauseated, lie in the dark and cry kinda' sick. Because I stick gemstones into clay too. I make cute little critters too. And I bet I was doing it before she was doing it, too. (whaaaa)
BUT- because she was published first, and everyone knows who she is, she is perceived as "owning" the idea and the technique. Anyone else who ever makes polyclay critters with gemstones stuck in them is going to be accused of RIPPING OFF CF ORIGINALS. Now, my husband's take on this- if it were Men dominating this Art, there would be hefty competition. Men would be making critters with gems stuck in them and trying to outdo one another, to make them better, more, bigger...aaaahhh! But, because it's a Woman's Art (primarily) we can't be seen as stepping on one another's toes, can't "copy" an idea, can't compete. I actually experienced this kind of persecution at my local bead shop. I went in there, decked out in my own finery. Leaf earrings, bracelet, the whole 9 yards. This bead shop sells Klew focal beads. The lady behind the counter said "Oh, are you wearing Klew beads?" I said, "No, I'm wearing MY beads." She said, with a sneer, "Oh, well, they look like Klew beads." I said, "No, Klew actually covers her focal beads with leaf canes, which most polymer clay artists learn how to do when they are first learning caning, a popular technique. I actually use the leaves AS beads. And I have met Karen, she is very nice." The lady said "That's why your beads look like copies of hers."
UM, rude. And I would say something else, but I'm too nice and not rude enough to say it.
Why is there no room for healthy competition, for taking an idea and running with it, in your own direction... or taking an idea and improving on it, or doing it your own way? Polymer Clay is such a new artform that if you "invent" something it gets named after you. The Skinner Blend... now nothing against Judy, but gradients have been around for a long time. I live in fear- that my design will show up somewhere else first, someone who is better at marketing will write a book or article or be featured on TV, doing something that I do, on my own... Great, then I get to be accused of being a copying rip-off artist with no original ideas.


Block Party Press said...

This is a tough subject. I know this has been a hot issue discussed many times over in the forums on etsy. I think everyone wants to be original, but there are just so many ideas out there. It is hard not be influenced by the artists around you, and at the same time when you see something very similar to your own, you can still get a pang of "I thought of that first". I have had several inquiries from other etsy sellers asking for details of how I create my pendants and at first I was a little frustrated because they were obviously planning to make their own and not purchase any of mine, but in the end I gave them the basics because I am not the first one to handcarve a stamp, and they probably would have figured it out anyway. I hand draw all of my designs directly onto the blocks, so while they could also handcarve a stamp, they wouldn't be able to duplicate my designs.

I have to agree a bit with your husband about the issue of women and competition. I believe it is true that woman worry more about stepping on someone's toes, and I also think woman can be more insecure with themselves and their art. For some reason we are made to feel that we are not good enough. Finally I think the fact that polymer clay is such a new art, that many new ideas are created at the same time, and some people still struggle to see it as a true art form. Just because someone was published in a technique first, doesn't mean it is off limits for others to use and expand on.

By the way, why are people so rude. Why couldn't the woman from the store just admire your jewelry and leave it at that. Why do people enjoy putting someone down. Who put her in charge of copyrights of another artists work. So many of the artists who come up with ideas, give classes on their technique. they wouldn't do that if they didn't expect people to use the technique to create their own art.

I say create what you love. promote it to the best of your ability and don't be afraid of a little competition it can only make you better.

Anonymous said...

Hi all! I get a little google alert sometimes about topics that interest me (and of course a blog with my name in it rates a look-see!)
I thought I'd come and share my comments too, as this is a subject very dear to me, and of great interest to most artists that sell what they create.
I can fully appreciate the frustration that you experienced when something you've created is assumed to be a copy of someone else's work! It is a phenomenon of the art and the craft world that sometimes styles, techniques, and concepts get branded with a specific artists name. If you happen to be the artist, that can be very flattering, of course (I know I still find it very surreal when I hear of something being in "the CF style"). I know that I am not the first person to sculpt with polymer clay (I've been sculpting since I was eight - much the same look as I do know, actually - but stopped after high school to dabble with other art forms, and of course get married, have kids, and all that middle life stuff! I decided to have a midlife crisis early, to get it out of the way, and that led to my realization that I better get back into being a real artist soon, or it would be too late.) I had sculpted in my young days with kiln fired earthen clays and was going to go back to that when I was introduced to polymer clay (by Klew, actually - so there's an odd coincidence for ya!) I then bought some polymerclay and Barbara McGuire's Foundations in Polymer Clay book and started playing. The reason I am telling you this story is to show where my own "inspiration" to add stones comes from - a story I try to relate anytime it comes up, for the very reasons you voiced in your musings! In short - ideas flow! nobody ever really creates in a vacuum - we as artists gather and if we're good- repackage, so to speak, the wealth of input we accumulate and come up with something unique and personal. Anyway, in McGuire's book there was a piece, I believe by Donna Kato that had a pearl cab in it. It got my creative wheels turning and the rest is history, as they say. I loved the thought of putting the two things together and it became the reason I love sculpting with polymer instead of any other medium -- it's the only clay that I can wire beads into as I sculpt. As my work became more noticable because of magazine articles, books and shows/classes, the idea of adding stones and beads has become associated with me - something I am both proud of and humbled by. I think is is such a natural combination - like stamping patterns into clay, or adding foils, etc. that it would have been promoted by someone sooner or later, I was just lucky that I've received such a boost to my visibility because of the connection. I do feel a responsibility, though, to share that - one of the reasons why I try to be so free with the ideas I come up with. This gets back to your point about polymer clay being a woman's world. I think you have an interesting conclusion there. Most crafts do seem to belong to women - male artists tend to occupy different mediums. Perhaps because craft mediums are so accessable to all and easier to use (as opposed to say glasswork, or metalsmithing or stonework, areas where there are a good percentage of male artists). But crafts sometimes fulfill a social longing as well - women do tend to have more craft guild, societies, and retreats, it seems to me.
So techniques and styles are chatted about more, shared, "copied" -- I personally feel this can be one of the most wonderful things about art, done responsibly -- that we can move forward as artists by incorporating, and then redefining things that others have discovered -- but that's sort of a utopian outlook, I know.
I can appreciate what you are feeling -- I've been in similar situations when someone has gotten into their head (and out their sometimes rude mouths!) that your work is anything other than an expression of your own creativity -- it's frustrating to say the least!
So, to sum up my long ramble here - I am as sorry as I can be that anything I'm doing would cause you any angst! I will be the first to say that I am not the only artist, nor the first artist to add bead and stone embellishments to clay. It was a personal discovery for me as an artist - but it is a big idea, and it was inevitable that it would pop out somewhere. I feel very lucky to be the one that has brought it to the attention of polymer artists and crafters, but I know that it was mostly being in the right place at the right time, with the right thing. My purpose in commenting to your blog is to give you and any other artist who feels a similar frustration my acknowlegement that I do not feel that I own this concept, and I realize that I did not "invent" it. Even though I was unaware of your work before this blog, I can appreciate that you and others realized the connection of clay and beads and we all have every right to show that off proudly!
christi friesen

ALD Designs said...

I am a lampworker with an interest in polymer clay....interested in stamping it, painting it, and distressing it.....sound familiar? I ended up finding this group when searching "how to" funny!

Well, it's called the C-word on the Lampworking boards and it is the dirtiest word you can be called....artists stifle their creative juices, avoid the message boards (like me usually), to avoid being called the C-word. The C-word was used in conjunction with one of my beads...penguins and suggested that I copied a DVD cover...stupid as it was it still smarts.

I don't think anyone really owns a technique so the only way to really copy is to sit there with the original and painstakingly copy it line by line, curve by curve.

If I ever get around to carving my own stamps and using them on polymer clay...they won't look just like anyone elses....I've got some different ideas already...*wink*...but I have to admit...the C-word still haunts me!


Ricki said...

I periodically Google (funny how that has become a verb) Christi Friesen and her art, because it is very interesting to me to see people's comments on her and her work.

I have a very personal interest in Christi and her work in that I am her brother (and have been since birth, as a matter of fact! heehee). When I saw this blog, it bothered me at first to read about how troubled Christi's work made you feel. As her brother, I know first-hand the history and mindset of Christi and her work, as well as the typical path that artist-in-the-make travel. Creating artwork in ANY form is a constant process of learning, discovering, defining, and re-defining. A person's style and interest can change again and again, or settle into a style that remains for years.

Christi's style and choice of mediums has ranged far and wide. You name it and she has probably experimented in it. ...Or may yet some day. Even though she has created many, many pieces of art over the years (just like other artists everywhere), I think I can safely say that she has never claimed any medium, style, or idea as solely her own. In fact, it is amazing to me how humble she is about her work and her influences! Sometimes I see the artwork others have created from her classes or books and it scares me a little bit that it so closely resembles her own work. And then I remind myself that it is not Christi's work, but created in a class or from a lesson, and that artist, as all artists do, will go from there to create his/her own pieces in his/her own style, according to his/her own interests.

Other times I see art that is similar to pieces that Christi has created, but I can tell that they are not hers. Granted I have been looking at Christi's art for many, many years and can recognize her artwork and quickly tell a difference from that of others work who may be similar. Like photography, you can assemble a hundred people to capture the essence of the same object with a hundred different results. Art provides even less possibility for sameness, because not only is the perspective different (as in photography), but add to that the difference of imagination, experience, mediums and all the myriads of other things that make us, as people, different.

Nobody's art is identical. That is the beauty of it! For every class that Christi (or any other teaching artist) teaches, I'd bet money that each attendee's final creation is different from every other person's creation, even though they were all styled after the same thing, under the instruction of the same person. Such is the nature of Art, itself. I think we can all be thankful for that.

It is inevitable that, as the world get smaller in this age of the internet, publishing, and television, artists whose works would, in the past, only be recognized regionally may now be noticed anywhere that the electronic/distributing winds may blow. This holds true for Christi, for Klew, and for everyone who exists in the world of art.

I know that the internet, classes, shows, and publications have certainly broadened the exposure of Christi's work, as well and that of the many others who have traveled/published/posted.

In this day and age of so many people who desperately try to "own" everything, I think it is refreshing and relieving to see that my sister has not tried to do so.

Creating art is a very personal thing, and very unique. The term "creation" is very appropriate for it, because it is, indeed, a creation -- something uniquely made from the imagination of its creator, from his/her own imagination. Even if an artist tries to recreate a piece, each piece by the same artist is going to be somewhat different and unique! Each created piece is a piece of its creator itself.

No one likes to be mistaken for someone else. Not in art, and not in Life in general. But it happens.

It was rude of that vendor to thoughtlessly make the comment that he/she did. Agreed. If it helps, here is my personal experience: As Christi's younger brother (2 years younger), I grew up in her shadow to some degree. "Oh, you're Christi's brother" was often the remark. Any artwork that I created never seemed as good as hers. It took me a while to come to the realization that my style and her style were two different things. I had to realize that I was NOT in competition with her and didn't need to have that mindset. But until I realized that, it frustrated me. Once I got past that, I could appreciate her creations so much the more and be more satisfied with my own.

As a artist, it is much more fun to have your work be noticed as yours rather than be compared to someone else's. This is inevitable, to some degree, as county-wide or world-wide exposure gets easier and easier through publishing. It's not as much fun as people knowing that your creation is yours, but it happens.

People compare. It is the way people are. How it is expressed can be flattering, it can sting, or it can be merely conversational.

The "advice" I can offer is to not worry about others and keep yourself grounded on what is you: your own creations. Embrace your own style(s) and your own imagination. People are people. They will step on your toes sometimes, yet make you feel like you can fly, other times. But what you are and what you feel is defined, ultimately, but what you think of yourself. Competition is fine in some things, but no one can ever be better at being you than YOU. Embrace that and let it flow into everything that you do and you create. It made a difference for me, years ago. Discovering that allowed me to appreciate Christi while still enjoying me.

About Our Guild