Saturday, January 25, 2020

Action Jackson

Learn to love questions and helping others find more!

Creating equine realism definitely isn't easy and the learned skillsets take years to developand sometimes we need help. Happily for that, help can come from anywhere, even in genres not related to ours! I can't tell you how much I've learned from monster design to special effects make up to prosthetics to collage to graphic design, for example. 

To that end, becoming and staying a pro-active learner is a great thing because it keeps us hungry and our work evolving. Wonderfully, all we have to do is reach for that new information enthusiastically, translating into research, attending classes, workshops and seminars, reading peer-reviewed papers, lots of comparative study, artistic exercises, watching videos, amassing references and analyzing them, blog reading, forum discussion, and on and onalways asking questions, staying curious. Luckily, too, the Internet is a wealth of information from how-tos to presentations to analysis on color genetics, anatomy, conformation, and biomechanics, artistic technique and creative philosophy. It's all out there at our fingertips just waiting to be mined!  

Being so, it's a good idea to indulge these avenues first before vetting assistance, especially from a working artist. Doing our homework first is critical because remember who you're sourcing and their limitationsa working artist. And all a working artist has is timethat's it, their most critical and limited resource. It's the single factor that lets them refine their art, do their own research, produce their art, and make their art in the first place to earn a living. Yet assisting someone who hasn't done any homework at all can be inordinately time consuming, and that can be a serious time sink. 

Now this isn't to say that helping someone shouldn't be done. Absolutely not! It's also not to say that seeking assistance is inherently inappropriate. Definitely not! And it's not to say that helping rote beginners isn't a good idea either. Nope! Sometimes, helping them can be some of the most satisfying ways to spend one's time, especially when they're earnest and invested. I also believe that helping others is our obligation, that we should "pay it forward" when we can. The more artists who reach their potential elevates all our efforts since the more brains that work a problem means more solutions. 

But it does suggest that there's a necessity to come to the assistance with a better idea of what's involved than absolutely, utterly nothing. Why? Well, "a damp sponge absorbs more than a dry one." In other words, if we don't know some degree of what's involved, whether through study or observation, most of what's going to be shared may not be fully understandable, if at all. It can go right over our head! And the more advanced the lesson, the more this is the case. Additionally, much of our help can only come online and that has its own limitations. Also, talking at a beginner level can be tricky for a seasoned artist since so much can be inadvertently taken for granted. However, to be fair, it can be a good lesson for them to do just that from time to time to clarify ideas and processes and, perhaps in doing so, refine these things further. The best way to learn how to perfect something is to teach it! Plus, beginners often come to the problem with totally fresh ideas, making learning symbiotic. What a wonderful thing!

Keep in mind, however, that each potential teacher is different as is each learner. Everyone comes to the table with different artistic styles, personality traits, motivations, and expectationsand sometimes we may not be a good match. Yet it's important that each party be simpatico in order to foster a good working relationship. So if that match isn't suitable, it's okay to give thanks and move onto someone else who may be a better fit. Put another way, forcing a bad fit can antagonize both parties, making the likelihood of help less forthcoming.

Put all this altogether and in congeals into a pretty good rule of thumb: Try not to present uniformed questions to working artists and try not to force the situation. Truly, a basic working knowledge of the issues at hand will gain the most out of the experience and make the most of everyone's time. Also, be highly specific, and the more advanced the issue, the more specific the question. For example, don’t ask something like, “How do I sculpt a head?” That's far too general and big an issue, often an enormous undertaking to even address. Sure, the teacher can dole out a few simple, starter suggestions which can work great, but that has its limitations, too. So often the better tactic is to take what you already know from your homework, and just do it in order to figure out what specifications you need the most guidance on. Because it's usually better to ask questions that beg quicker, more concise, more helpful answers. For instance, “What are some alignments of the head I can use as guides?” Or, "what tools are best for sculpting the head?" "What shapes are best visualized for sculpting an eye or nostril?" "I'm having this x-problem with my you recommend some trouble shooting?" Or, "what clay and solvent to you recommend for x-kind of work?" Or "How do you achieve more symmetry?" The more specific the question, the more practical the answer, and the more likely we'll get an answer and quickly. 

On that note, it's not a good idea to impose too much on a working artist's time and energy. They're usually very busy running their studios and have done their own hard work to earn their skills—and it’s important we do the same. Really, only when we truly get stuck or confused or overwhelmed is their advice best applied. That means continual questions that eat up more and more of their clock is a surefire way to create friction. But this isn't due to vindictiveness, it's out of necessity. A working artist simply cannot afford to help so often. This is usually the reason why some artists, being so busy, tend to be rather succinct in their help, simply offering useful links, books, lists, or articles for our own edification. It's just a reality with their limited time resources. Yet this is also why many artists have already compiled lists, articles, books, or blog posts on common subjects that would answer many of our questions. To tell the truth as well, it's important for learners to struggle and work things out on their own. It encourages pro-active learning, experimentation, and valuable lessons on arting. There's value in having knowledge earned rather than just handed out. This isn't to say we should let learners struggle needlessly though. It's to acknowledge it can be worthwhile to wrestle with our skills every so often, and that goes for seasoned artists, too.

Above all though, try to avoid assuming a seasoned artist is being unfair, hostile, secretive, or mean if they opt out of helping. The reality of that working artist may mean their resources are already stretched quite thin so offering help simply isn't in the cards. Everyone has their reason and assuming the worst isn't only unfair, it can poison the well. 

Again, let me repeat that I believe we're obligated to help others in their arts. It's good for them, good for us, and good for the community by advancing our arts and building cohesion and commonality between us. It's just that we need to approach it with a bit of investment on our part in a way that works with the limitations of the situation. That being so, helping others and seeking help can also be a terrific way to build relationships, personal and professional, which can be immensely rewarding all 'round on many levels. And in this rebirth of the DIYer, helping others is even more critical than ever! The next generation of artists are our future and we cannot let them wither on the vine if we hope for all this to flourish. In this spirit then, it's all the more reason to better understand what's involved when seeking that help so that more beginners are less intimidated asking for it and more seasoned artists are prone to providing it. 

One of the great things about this genre is its propensity to share information. Truly, it would be wonderful to see this even formalized into annual artist retreats or workshop events to balance out the competitive-heavy theme of our social gatherings. I dream of a day when such things will happen in equal measure as shows. Not saying competition is a bad thing! But it would be nice to have another facet of participation, and one that coincidentally happens to facilitate participation in that competition at the same time.

That said, a mentor program is a completely different situation to all this, one which I'm not speaking to. Mentorship is a wonderful avenue for helping others that's often much more time-rich than cold-calling a working artist. For that, Mares In Black has a terrific mentorship program that may be of interest to you.

Anyway, there you have it. Hopefully some useful advice for getting advice. My best advice in all this? Stay curious. It encourages enthusiasm, fun in learning, exploration, and fresh thinking always positive things. Seek, stretch, ponder, and rethink. And apply what's learned from others and make it your own. Don't be afraid to put your own spin on things! And pay it forward whenever possible. Consider this tooone of the best ways to learn is to teach! Want to know where your knowledge gaps are? Teach. Want to know where you can improve your process and Eye? Teach. Want to learn current theory and new hypothesis? Teach. Want to bump your work to the next level? Teach. Want to truly fathom a subject on deeper levels? Teach. So whoever said "those who can, does; he who cannot, teaches" was so very very very horribly wrong! Instead, I prefer Aristotle's wiser take, who said, "those who know do, those who understand, teach." So beginners, don't be afraid to seek help! Just frame it in a way that'll best cultivate the situation. And seasoned artists? Do what you can to further the efforts of others. It's rewarding in its own right as well as for you. Collective learning is what people do best and fostering it enriches our community in countless ways, planting seeds that will grow and spread deep roots that will blossom a nicer garden for us all. 

"True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own." ~Nikos Kazantzakis


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Gathered Wisdom

Creating our art can be a roller coaster ride of triumphs and frustrations, elation and discouragement, enthusiasm and self-doubt. We seem to be traveling this strange, unpredictable journey where we self-actualize both our potential and ourselves in partnership. As such, it asks for inner reflection and outward seeking which can certainly be fascinating, but it's also a bit overwhelming to be honest. Whatever this journey is about, and it's different for each of us, it never seems to end, does it? An endless, hidden trail that winds and dips always into unknown territory.
It can be helpful then to have a toolbox of handy advice to keep close to heart, guiding us on our curious journey and helping us stay centered and eager in our creativity. Just for that, I've been lucky to have picked up some great tidbits over the years from other artists, teachers, friends, and family, even random strangers. I've also learned some "art life hacks" that keep me going through the ups and downs of that emotional roller coaster. So I'd like to share all this hoping these morsels will feed you on your creative trail since we all need nurturing words to sustain us from time to time.

Ten Guides

To start, I've gleaned ten core ideas from others that have kept me moving in the right direction. Truly, whenever I start to feel like I'm spinning my wheels or churning out junk, or even questioning why I'm doing any of this at all, I go back to these ten and re-absorb their wisdom. Hey, sometimes we have to backtrack a bit because it's easy to get a little lost in our meanderings. For that then, these ten dollops of insight are...
  • Your pencil has an eraser—use it! It's okay to change your mind.
  • Let things evolve. The piece will tell you what it wants—don't fight it.
  • Never go part way. If anything you purposely neglect now will bug you five years from now, fix it.
  • Know when to say "done." We only improve when we create lots and lotsand lotsof finished pieces.
  • Anything can be made less intimidating. Simply envisioning things in familiar shapes, lines, and forms can do wonders.
  • Start simple and then get more complex. Creating something is a progressionbe patient, keep at it, and give the process "room to breath."
  • Never be married to something. Everything we do should be open to change to forward the whole concept.
  • Try to be kind to yourself. Allow yourself the foibles of the learning curve and the fact that every artist will periodically create bad pieces throughout their career. Give yourself permission to be human. Learn to forgive yourself.
  • Protect your joy. Do anything it takes to preserve the visceral enjoyment of arting. Take a break if needed. Switch gears and create in a different way, even with different media and types of art. Just keep creating, whatever form that takes.
  • Never rain on someone's parade. Each of us is creating our art on our own terms, at our own pace, with our own evolving Eye. And the will to create art can be a very fragile thing. So if we're kind to ourselves, be even kinder to others.
It's no surprise then that when we absorb this good advice, we tend to have an easier time on our creative journey. We essentially become more serene with our process, ourselves, and with others, and that's just as important as learning a new technique or refining our Eye. 

Five Foundations

While I've been lucky enough to have learned the Ten Guides from others, I've also been able to solidify Five Foundations that work for meand maybe they'll work for you, too. Now some I learned through observation, but others I absorbed from someone's role modeling. Curiously, role-modeling can be a powerful thing even if we don't see its effects right away. Some planted seeds just take more time to grow. So that said, the Five Foundations are...
  • Always actively observe. You never know what you can pick up with open eyes, ears, heart, and mind because useful information can come from anywhere. Truly, sometimes the best lessons come at us sideways. And learning isn't always about technique. Our methods can only take us so far. Indeed, even if we used the very same tool or the very same media or the very same method as an esteemed artist, that doesn't mean we'll be producing the same caliber work. The truth is that the deeper learning is that which refines our Sight and our ability to Translate that into our media. What tools and media we use are important, of course, but they're only the means to express our Understanding. 
  • Mistakes aren't to be feared but embraced as teachers. It may be a cliche, but practice truly does make perfect. We have to do and redo, fail and fix, over and over and over and over again for even one bit of progress to be made. But don't become despondent if that progress doesn't happen where you wanted it—it was made, but sideways. The more we start and finish, the faster we grow even if that growth isn't always predictable. Just go with the flow and keep finishing. Also don't forget that every piece will always have ugly stages—so keep going. Trust the process, trust the references, trust yourself, and keep going. A lot about achieving the desired result is successful follow through, of going far enough in the process to achieve the effect you want. Curiously, there's such a thing as "underworked" just as there is "overworked."
  • "Comparison is the death of joy" says Mark Twain. He's absolutely right. Fight the urge to compare your work and accomplishments to others as it'll only cause a kind of death inside, a kind of grief. Frustration, envy, resentment—these are the things that poison our every well and leave us feeling defeated and cast aside. They deceive us and whisper lies in our ear that we're inadequate, untalented, unsung, and wasting our time. Yet time is always well spent being creative! And you're far more talented than you know and have far more potential than you suspect! So instead, be proud! Own it! You beat your own drum and march to your own tune, and no one in the entire Universe makes your music or even could if they tried. It's absolutely worth all your hard work, sacrifice, and enthusiasm. So do good work consistently and always seek improvement, and it'll all come together.
  • You're only as good as the last piece you finished. In other words, try not to judge your abilities on work you did ten, five, even a year ago. They represent a very different situation in your life than the right here and now. So instead, gauge your abilities based on the piece you just finished right now, and then with your next piece, try to improve on that if you wish. And understand that improvement is incremental, and it comes in fits and starts. And even the tiniest improvement can lead to huge jumps forwards—you just never know. So keep reaching for that brass ring even if it seems relatively insignificant. And truth be told, breaking up our development into baby steps tends to create a friendlier framework for taking those big leaps anyway, so don't hesitate to deconstruct things a bit. Anyway, understand that our progression is always happening—even when we're not working—so what we create today is a much better read on our abilities than what we created yesterday. There's great hope in that, isn't there? So much potential! So don't short-change yourself by making assumptions based on past work.
  • Find the still point in your heart and in your head to create your best work. Distraction is a funny saps our energies and causes us to stray from the moment, the critical here and now that's everything to an artist. What does this mean? It means that whatever your creative situation, learn to stay in the moment between yourself and your piece. Seek to quiet those voices that seep into our heads from social media. Put on music or a video that lends white noise to help you get into that groove. Put on noise-cancelling headphones if needed. Your creativity is your healer, your rejuvenator, your own personal headspace that's all yours. Do whatever it takes then to protect that zone because that's where you not only work best, but you feel best working. It's your sanctuary. 
One Truth

Smoosh all that together and we have a pretty good "arting hack" to foster our creativity and even more importantly, for staying creative. Because it's so easy to just throw up our hands and be done with it, isn't it? To walk away to find some other diversion. Or perhaps it isn't. Perhaps this brand of creativity is stuck deep in our drive and so all our frustrations do is remind us of our perceived inadequacies. Either which way, disappointment, the kind we self-generate when we don't meet our own expectations, is always with us whether we're a beginner or a seasoned artist. That toxic brew of self-doubt, insecurity, deflation, stirred by those little unpleasant voices, will always try to poison us no matter how much we've achieved.

Yet at the same time, we're human, right? Why are these things that seem to drag us down framed in such a negative way then, as though they were enemies? They're a part of us, too. Maybe, instead, they're there to keep pushing us to reach our potential, to ask more of ourselves as a challenge to grow and explore. Think about it—without them, would we even work half as hard to stretch? If we were continually pleased with out work, where's the impetus to improve? In a sense, they're the grain of sand in our oyster, fashioning our skills—and ourselves—into a pearl. And that's the crux of it, isn't it? When we have to face our fears—pull them near and look them in the eye—we have to make peace with them, and we have to make peace with ourselves. 

Because truly, we cannot war with ourselves if we hope to truly progress. It takes up too much mental energy that should be focused on other things. It's also emotionally painful and, if bad enough, can create a feedback loop that begins to associate creativity with negativity. But the problem isn't us per se. The issue is the nature of the learning curve, and that issue is the same for everyone. See, "learning curve" is a misnomer. It's not actually a smooth, steady curve. Boy, is that bogus! Instead, it's like a tangled up ball of yarn, unpredictably going up, down, sideways, backwards, squiggly weird, loopidy loop, criss cross, knots even!, twisty whisty, and any which way but straight forwards. What's more, there's a proverbial cat also batting that ball all over the place, pupils wide and tail whipping 'round. Creativity is chaos itself. What we literally do as we improve then is to wrestle ever more of that chaos into something more closely resembling what we envision. Our expectations and our abilities get closer and closer together.

Because what a "learning curve" also doesn't address is how different aspects of our knowledge base and skillset will improve at different rates. Yanno...if there weren't enough fans on this fire, we have to add this one, too? Gah! But it's true. For example, what we see in our head may be very sophisticated, but our abilities with our tools, our media, our mental library, and our Translative skills just aren't up to snuff yet to fully realize that vision. What's the result? A big blob of WTH in front of us...aaaaaaaand then, of course, frustration, disappointment, deflation, insecurity...and those little voices again. If we don't recognize this for what it is—the unavoidable glitches in a learning curve—we're going to inevitably deduce that we're simply incapable, that what we're doing is a waste of our time and care. But going back to the Ten Guides and the Five Foundations, we remember that "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." Wise words from Winston Churchill. We must do and redo, fail and fix to fail and fix again, learn and relearn over and over and over in order to reach our expectations. And every little improvement—many of which we won't notice until after the fact—are cumulative and build on each other in a wonderful synergy of accelerated growth. There's no such thing as a "small improvement!" Each one is a huge leap forwards. Celebrate it! You did it! "Each horse is practice for the next," is great wisdom a dear friend told me years ago which I keenly remember as I start every new piece—and look back at every finished one. Honestly, knowing when to say "done" and having the courage to start a new piece is perhaps the single most important trait for an artist in this genre.

But if we can see that our hiccups are a learning curve eccentricity rather than a reflection of our innate abilities, perhaps we can keep all those voices from fanning something even worse inside us—fear. We're human beings. We have dualities. As such, our natures are torn between curiosity and fear...and fear usually wins if we aren't very careful with our assumptions and reactions. "Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi." "Fear is the mind-killer." Rudyard Kipling also observes, "Of all the liars of the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears." And, of course, from the little green man himself, "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." 

Distill it then and it all comes down to fear—fear of our assumed inabilities, fear of failure, fear of getting stuck, fear of what other people will say, fear of biting off more than we can chew, fear of not being as good, and on and on. Fear can be a bottomless well it seems. But all the established artists have faced their fear, in all its forms, defiant against its many tactics, and have come out the other end singing. Yet fear is never conquered outright—it has to be fought again and again. This being the case, perhaps great artists aren't born but made through deliberate self-actualization only because it takes more than talent but also equal parts moxie and gumption. And each of us has far more of that than we may realize if we just believe in ourselves a little bit. Because here's the thing—we don't have to have this amazing confidence. We don't have to know what we're doing all the time, or even part of the time. And we don't have to see exactly where we're going every step of the way. We just have to believe in ourselves a little bit. 

So that's the one, last Truth: believe in yourself, a little bit more every day. Luckily, the Ten Guides and the Five Foundations will help you on that journey. Practice them relentlessly and it'll become easier and easier to believe in yourself and trust in your potential. Now granted, that may seem totally incredulous when we're stumbling or totally screwing up on a piece. But the truth is that these moments usually herald a breakthrough, when our expectations and abilities are about to take one more step towards each other. Because we're struggling for a reason, right? If we didn't struggle, we'd still be operating with our old paradigms, yes? It's only when we're about to jump to a new one that our skills start to itch! So trust in yourself and forge ahead, full steam! If needed, seek other inputs through new research, new references, even critique from trusted sources. Just keep moving forwards.

You'll also probably find a greater composure and serenity in your work when practicing these ideas. "Like water off a duck's back" is a quip I often say because I like the idea of our stresses rolling right off us, unable to gain a grip. Really, it helps to eliminate as much stress as possible from our studio life because serenity works to generate the Zone that lets our creativity resonate at its best frequencies. It's like the sound-proofing that keeps the noise of the world out. But serenity isn't necessarily a product of great confidence—it's a product of complete acceptance. Acceptance of being human—that mistakes will be made, but we can fix them and learn from them. Acceptance that patience and work are the way towards merging our expectations with our abilities. Acceptance that not everyone will like our work, and that's okay. Acceptance that everyone is on a different learning curve and that's a good thing. Acceptance that our fears are part of us, but also a part that needs careful management and even more kindness. Acceptance of all the things we cannot control because learning happens in its own time and pace. Acceptance that no artist can produce perfection. Only Nature can do that. All we can do is our level best at that moment, and that's all we can ask of ourselves—and that's more than enough. And above all, accept that you and what you create are worthwhile even when you feel the most despondent and alone. It may be really hard to believe at that moment, but trust me—it's true.

Put it all together then, and that's a pretty good map for blazing your own trails on your own terms! And maybe over time, you can discover your own guides. Each of us represents a unique experience, so it's likely you'll find new pathways unique to yours. There's no wrong way! There's only your way and if that way feeds your good vibes, that's the best way there is! Happy trails!

"The most splendid achievement of all is the constant striving to surpass yourself and to be worthy of your own approval." ~Denis Waitley


Sunday, November 17, 2019

Equine Realism And The Law Of Averages

One of the great things about creativity is its seemingly endless possibilities, limited only by our imaginations and aspirations. It’s absolutely amazing what people come up with, isn’t it? Just when we think we’ve seen it all, someone spins it all on its head!

Even so, we’ve chosen an art form with pretty strict limitations, haven't we? Equine realism has rules, nonnegotiable boundaries that direct our imaginations down a relatively narrow path. Even within this box, however, artists push in every conceivable direction, creating work that surprises, inspires, and delights in fresh, new ways. Really, when I judged custom minis at The Jennifer Show this year, all that fresh thinking was wonderful to see! Artists today are less hesitant to veer into the unconventional, willing to explore more novel depictions of the equine and it’s so exciting. We need more of this than we may realize.

Nevertheless, there are still limitations. I still saw similarities with past works because we’re dealing with a finite subject all the same. Horses only come in certain colors and patterns. They can only move in certain ways. They’re built as evolution dictates. Breed type homogenizes, and some phenotypes can look so similar as to seem nearly identical. We still have the confines of that box, the limited reality of our subject matter.

What's more, design and materials technologies for sculpture limit our options even further. Glass, ceramic, resin, metals, and customization can only support and achieve so much within the laws of physics and fatigue. We also want things to be archival—even shippable—so that means certain ideas just aren't quite feasible right now which can corral our possibilities even more. Sure, it would be amazing for accessible new tech to offer fully free-floating sculptures, for example, but for now we have to jury-rig supports and certain poses. And when it comes to customs, in particular, we'll see multiple variations on a theme since so many of us like the very same molds. 

Put all this together and we have an inevitable, unavoidable outcome: Similarities between multiple pieces simply due to the law of averages. When we have loads of minds working within this little box for all these years—and those in the future—we’re going to have overlap, spontaneously and independently. There’s only so many ways we can depict the equine available to us. Sure, those ways seem suitably plentiful, but that isn’t always the case. Similar ideas simply inspire multiple hearts. We’ve all seen the cantering warmblood, the windblown stock horse, the snorty trotting Arabian, the leg cocked drafter, the cantankerous mare, the pugnacious pony, the standing horse with a cocked ear and eyewhites, and the playful foal—and a plethora of others—many times over the years, haven’t we? The grullo sabino Paint, palomino high white Half-Arab, "skjevet" Fjord, dominant white Thoroughbred, isabella Lusitano, pintaloosa pony, dappled buckskin Teke, and other appealing colors and patterns have peppered our rings, too. And what of the same popular molds used over and over with similar interpretations? How many head-turned PAMs have we seen? And even with fantasy many times have we seen the striping of falcon or hawk wings on pegasus wings? Then—whammo—we open this up to the bigger arts landscape and this issue explodes in sheer numbers, often in uncanny ways. For instance, I just recently discovered that I'd thought up almost the exact same idea as Degas sketched out so many years ago. Almost down to the tail position! I about fell out of my chair! And completely unaware. Similar things just captivate us—and that’s not a bad thing. It’s simply the law of averages in that little box.

But you know what’s a bad thing? The knee-jerk accusation of plagiarism.

I really wish this would stop. Why? Well, contrary to belief, it’s exceedingly harmful to creativity by ever chopping down the possibilities artists can explore. What if the subject of “rearing Arabian with whippy tail” was off limits because some other artist did it? Or the visual of “twisty leaping Akhal-Teke” was verboten because it was already done? What if the concept of “red roan overo with cornspots Paint” was already taken? The idea of “trotting pinto mule foal with floppy ears”? "Densely fleabit Arabian with extensive blood mark"? "Horses playing?" "Horse with non-equine friend?" Or "mama bear mare protecting her foal"? If each new piece removes that concept from the pool, what will eventually be left? Now grandfather in all the past pieces from forty years of work—and also include the plethora of conventional artworks—and that becomes a rather tiny pool, doesn’t it? Really, it's an ever-shrinking skim of moisture on a driveway, that's what. 

Now it can be argued that artists can infuse various changes to make their pieces different, and that’s certainly true. But it’s also true that because of the law of averages, another artist can come up with a very similar, even the same, concept spontaneously and independently, including those little changes, in total innocence. Shouldn’t we give artists the benefit of the doubt? If for nothing else than protecting creativity in our community? While that seems counter-intuitive, it’s true nonetheless. Indeed, I know of one artist who hasn’t created some exciting new work because of fear of this accusation, depriving us all. Likewise, another artist and myself both came up with very similar ideas for a galloping Marwari totally independently and at the same time, yet we both ended up not creating those pieces to avoid being labeled a plagiarist. How unfortunate is that? This is the destructive power of this accusation. 

Now it can also be said that this effect forces artists to explore new routes of design, and that’s true as well. But it’s also true that we can’t always know what each other is doing! What are we supposed to do? Broadcast all our future plans to claim “ownership"? And what if we change our mind? And what if we're so enamored of our own original idea that coincidentally echoes another, we’re loathe to change it? An independently arrived at idea is still our own even if something similar already exists or will exist in the future. Aren’t we entitled to follow our own original inspirations? Indeed, there's a lot of work out there we don't know about so if we end up creating something similar to it, how is that our fault? When we start dictating what artists can and can’t create because of an inevitable overlap, aren't we actually squelching creativity, innovation, and inspiration? And what kind of limits are we placing on future artists, those not even around yet? When we start shrinking the pool of what’s possible, what we’re actually doing is destroying our arts community, not protecting it.

Now, absolutely, deliberately copying or borrowing too heavily isn’t kosher. It's wrong. Of course it is. But is this actually the case most of the time? I’m not so sure only because I’ve experienced and observed the reality of independent inspiration too often. Instead, I tend to believe that most of our artists are creating their works with integrity and honesty, according to their coincidental inspirations. Perhaps then it's newbies and youth who are doing much of the outright copying since some seem to be unaware it’s wrong. This is all the more reason to be kind and educational then, right? It’s a teaching moment, not a reason to go on the attack. In fact, in all my years involved in this community, I’ve only known a handful of artists who've actually flat out copied or borrowed too much, but that’s a tiny percentage in the grand scheme of things.

What’s more, ten artists could recreate the very same concept or even the very same photograph, and each one would end up different due to style and what each artist Sees and doesn’t See, likes or doesn’t like, focuses on or doesn’t focus on, etc. Each one might add their own special spin, too, like a flicked ear, different tail, cat tracks, or application of technique. So yes, we can infuse little changes, but we can also approach the very same visual and not actually be copying each other as well. Even so, those little alterations can be applied in a similar way, too, because so many of us like them. For example, a twitchy ear, a breezy tail, a pooky lip, a cocked head, Belton Spots, eyewhites, extensive mapping, stained feathers, or any number of similar tweaks inspire so many of us the same way. As long as we don’t actually outright copy someone’s work then, aren’t we allowed the happenstance of inevitability within a limited subject? Creating our own individual visuals that unwittingly end up markedly similar isn’t the same as deliberate, outright copying. It’s a different phenomena created by different circumstances. Even copyright law recognizes this unpredictability of creativity and is less likely to prosecute an independently arrived at idea that’s similar to another. And what of an artist repeatedly revisiting their own idea? What if they create multiple “pudgy pinto ponies”? Is that so bad? Indeed, this is a rather common practice in the art world as artists explore variations within a concept. It's called a series. Therefore, giving artists the benefit of the doubt and the room to be creative on their own terms, even when overlap happens, can actually encourage more new work.

It may seem another contradiction, but giving more brains the opportunity to work similar problems elevates our efforts to new heights, too, because we learn from each other. Studying how each artist approached comparable challenges is instructive and actually provides the opportunity to explore more options to make our own our own. For example, “arched neck standing, snorty Arabian” has been explored countless times, but each one is slightly different, isn’t it? But years ago I observed people accuse an artist of plagiarism for simply creating their own “stretched halter stance foal” because they thought this artist was copying the work of another. Seriously? How many times have we seen halter stretched foals in the past and how many more will be created in the future? So is this visual now off limits? Even if it’s on the same mold, don’t many of us often love the same ones? Isn’t it inevitable then that “stretched bay Hackney pony done from a Swaps" would happen at least twice? I know of two created totally independently. And what if we’re inspired by the work of another artist? Granted, it can be a fine linethat's certainly true. But it’s certainly possible we may not outright plagiarize their work while still being influenced by it. Because I also know of two trotting Hackney ponies in which one artist was directly inspired by another—and no harm, no foul. Influences happens all the time to tell the truth, even in the conventional art world. It can get even more complicated. I know of two artists who deliberately borrowed heavily from each other in a playful game of oneupmanship with perfectly good intentions. I was even accused of plagiarism of the PAM with Stormwatch's position even though the PAM never even entered my mind when creating him. He simply popped into my head one day so it was just coincidence that the positions were similar. I was even accused of remaking a PAM to create him when I can clearly show anyone the original solid epoxy sculpture. Let's X-ray him! Things aren't so cut n' dry when we’re dealing with a law of averages that involves inspiration bound by realism. Boiled down then, it also means that ill-informed assumptions or irresponsible speculation can be just as troublesome in this unfair blame game of plagiarism.

The unfortunate truth then is that not only is innocently-conceived work not getting created, but even worse, artists who are creating works in perfect innocence are being stomped on, their reputations besmirched, and their achievements tarnished because of this issue with plagiarism. Are those really the outcomes we want? Heck, I’ve not created certain pieces simply because of this. And you know what? I don’t think so anymore. Instead, I think I’m going to follow my individually arrived at inspirations and if those end up being similar to something else, so be it. BecauseheyI create in a fishbowl. I don't get out much. So when I judged TJS, there was a slew of work I'd never seen before, not even online. Yet some of those ideas echoed my own that I'd planned out in my sketch book years ago, only I hadn't gotten to them yet. So I can't create those now? Are we really okay with someone's creativity being stymied by the law of averages within a finite subject? When artists exploring their honest concepts free from worry of the stigma pushes the possibilities out even more? This benefits us all. How? Well, it fosters an artist's drive to imagine, explore, and innovate, enriching our arts and pushing skill sets ever further. In this sense then, weaponizing plagiarism only backfires on everyone and our future. Indeed, when we try to corral the honest creative experience, we risk killing it altogether. No serious artist particularly likes to create work exactly like another—we like to tell our own storiesyet making that box ever smaller will have the opposite effect. 

The reality is that an artist doesn’t “own” a general idea, only the very specific manifestation of that idea. This is why, for example, a photographer doesn’t own the nature of a tricep or the muscling of a neck in their photo, but only the very specific image of that specific horse in that specific photo as a whole, novel composition. This is why we have to ask permission of the photographer when we directly copy their photograph but we can still use the anatomical components as direct references to “frankenstein” our own original work together. It's also why countless photographers can take photos of the very same halter pose and not have to worry. "Arabian halter stance" just isn't an "owned" concept because it's just too common and intrinsically necessary in life. It's also why I own the very specific visual of Stormwatch but not the concept of "windswept rangy horse." It’s also why we shouldn’t get upset when multiple artists create “bay Saddlebred weanling with three white socks and a blaze” because imagine the future if this concept was off limits? And—hey—there will be oodles of exactly that color and markings on real Saddlebred weanlings in the future who'll serve as references for new artists. What's more, I know of a group of very upstanding artists who deliberately recreated the very same color simply to see how each different Eye would create variations. It was a very interesting experiment. So are they copying each other or the reference they all used? And how would we know without asking? I also know a group of ceramists who put the very same glaze on the very same piece simply to see how each kiln fired it. I'm one of them. And I’ve actually had other artists feel compelled to ask permission from me to create their own windblown mustang. What if I said “no”? What would I have deprived our community? If we punish artists for these benign explorations in overlap, what are we actually sacrificing? I suspect a lot more than we imagine. 

There’s this, too: Innovation begs imitation because many want to stay ahead of the curve. A new technique, a new look, a new effect, especially when more effective, will naturally spin into duplication. I remember when roans were done with the spray can or splatter technique then all of a sudden the hair-by-hair technique became dominant, for instance. I'm unaware who pioneered it, but is it wrong for others to adopt a new technique? How else will our arts grow? How else will we push the boundaries of what’s possible? I also remember when hairing was simply what we did as matter of course, then—boom—a prominent artist made sculpted manes and tails popular and it took off to become modus operandi today. So do we force artists to stick only to their own technologies even when that may disadvantage them? How in the world does that encourage growth and further innovation? Sure, some methodologies are proprietary in the art world, but are we more interested in elevating this unique art form for everyone in our genre, or do we care more about monopolizing outcomes? But I admit, I'm all about sharing because I want to see how others improve my methods. Maybe that's rash, but it's how I prefer to live my art life. I must note, too, that our community has a real penchant for sharing information compared to the conventional art world, and it's truly fantastic. It would be a shame to compromise it.

Nevertheless, I have heard the suggestion that creating work too similar to each other can compromise the value of the earlier piece, so how is that fair to collectors? That the distinctive visual itself has inherent value. And that’s a very good point, one that deserves reflection. We can’t ignore that novelty has an intrinsic value. Yet most upstanding artists seek to make their own work distinctive anyway, and so they may visit a similar concept but either by chance or by choice, naturally make it different enough to create a buffer zone. Undeniably, too, the sheer influence of artistic style can infuse enough difference to avoid too much exacting overlap. To be sure, different styles appeal to different people…and different judges. So while outright copying a piece's specific visual or novelty would definitely compromise valuemaking it clearly the wrong thing to doI’m not sure that unintentional or unavoidable overlap can have the same impact. How many "palomino ISHs with medium white" are out there now yet each seems to hold its value? Or how many lovely Khemosabi resins have been painted just like the grand ol' Khemo himself? 

So while encouraging artistic freedom can inevitably produce similarities between different works, sometimes markedly so, I still believe that’s perfectly okay. It just comes with the territory when we’re dealing with a subject unavoidably stuck in a box. Because what’s our best option here? Limit creativity by increasingly prohibiting swaths of subject matter or simply accept the nature of the box and give artists the benefit of the doubt? I choose to live by the latter because I've known too many artists with the honest desire to create their own honest work but end up creating similarities all the same. 

I’d like to repeat that it’s one thing to purposely copy another work unauthorized and quite another to inadvertently create something similar or even be inspired by a similar idea. To my mind, those are very different scenarios. And again—yes—that can be a very fine line. Even so, there's a big difference between copying a specific work and visiting a similar concept. As such, I would like to think that most folks consider all this when deciding which is which as new work emerges, choosing to err on the side of creative generosity rather than pointing a finger. Therefore, I chose to believe that most artists are upstanding and seek to express only their own individual, original fancies, even if they end up being similar. Is that naive? I don’t know. But I do see the law of averages at work every year despite all our best efforts to avoid it. And I do know the powerful desire to stay true to our own novel interpretation even if a concept has been visited many times before. And I do know what kind of creative future I want for this community. 

Even so, it’s easy to get twitchy when we perceive another borrowing too heavily or overlapping too closely. It’s easy to assume the worst such as spiteful or thoughtless intentions to steal our thunder. For example, if we come out with “standing Warmblood stallion” and that very year another artist pops out one, too, perhaps even close on our heels, slipping into resentment and suspicion is an easy slide. The rumor mill is also no help as some fan the flames to needlessly amplify the situation. Ill-informed speculation and careless assumptions can be very dangerous poisons and even more dangerous weapons. But while there have indeed been times when an artist did deliberately overlap on purpose, even spitefully, I prefer to think most arrived at their work with coincidental inspirations. Artists also tend to fill perceived holes in the show ring, funneling focus on those avenues of competition with more meager representation. This can cause an unintentional barrage of similar work all at once through no fault of anyone. For instance, Friesians spontaneously exploded on the scene back in the 90s, a particular streaky style of sabino became immensely popular all at once some years back, and several artists were coincidentally inspired by Gambling Man’s specific splash pattern when it was discovered by the community some decades ago. Performance requirements also confine what's possible even further which is probably why we see so much repetition of a concept with pieces designed for it. Sometimes it just happens.

Admittedly, too, I tend to think the best of people in this regard because I’ve just seen too many innocent similarities over the years and have known many of the artists involved. I've also seen artists ask permission from photographers to directly copy specific visuals with tremendous results that enrich the experience for us all. And what's more, I've seen the power of an originally inspired idea grip an artist’s imagination and compel them to new heights of accomplishment. Truly, it would be unfortunate to systematically squelch all this out of hand with that awful accusation of plagiarism. Maybe this optimism is a fault of mine. Maybe it’s foolish. But I don’t like the thought of limiting potential by dictating what form inspiration should take so tightly, even cruelly. Because it hurts to be accused of plagiarism, too. Here we create this shiny new thing we’re so proud of only to meet with suspicion, hostility, prosecution, besmirching, even snubbing. It can spook an artist outright, preventing new work from ever coming into existence, even almost killing the desire to create anything at all. And consider thisin this renewed age of the DIYer, what kind of serious threat does this accusation of plagiarism now pose? I worry it's a decided one.

I don’t know what the answer is. Is there even a solution to overlap? Should there even be one? Really, I wonder if it’s just not better to trust that most artists are creating with honest intentions or that they’ll naturally seek novelty in their work to make it distinctively their own. It cannot be denied that the serious artist does so out of pride and integrity anyway, and many artists in our community take their work very seriously to their credit. But even with every effort, there's always that law of averages that will ensure that innocent coincidental overlap sometimes happens. Nowyes—there have been cases of outright plagiarism. Yes—there have been times when an artist downright snatched another's concept to "beat them to it." Yes—there have those who have borrowed too heavily from another artist. Yes—there have been artists who thought they could do better and simply copied another's concept to "improve" on it. Yesthere have been those who base their work on another and try to pass it off as their own original creation. Yes—there have been those struggling with a learning curve seeking guidance in other work and end up borrowing too much. All this is true. But isn't it also true that many similarities could be accidental, a function of the law of averages within a finite subject? Is it really the best policy then to so easily burn those involved with the brand of plagiarism? 

It all depends on what kind of arts future we want and how we want to regard our artists. What kind of creative freedoms will we accept and which will we kibosh? In all this, I’d like to think we’d be generous, giving leeway to the accidents of coincidence and inevitable overlap. I’d like to believe we’d think the best of each other because how else can we build a cohesive community that’s inclusive and supportive of its talents, especially new ones? I want to assume we’d pause with the wisdom of experience and graciousness before dropping the anvil of accusation on our peers. Again, maybe I’m being naive. I hope not.

“There is no ‘right way’ to make art. The only wrong is in not trying. Not doing. Don’t put barriers up that aren’t there—just get to work and make something.” ~ Lisa Golightly

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