Copycat (Or Why I Won’t Paint That For You)

Copycat (Or Why I won't Paint that for you) by Amanda Michele

I’m sure you’ve all heard the Picasso quote, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Well, I’m no Picasso but I’m going to disagree with him on that, at least in certain situations. A couple of months ago, an e-mail reached my inbox requesting a custom original painting. I did the happy dance that I do whenever I get a commission or sell an original and continued reading. It seemed like a massive project, rich watercolor several feet wide on heavy paper with a raw edge. It would be a huge undertaking and I was up for the challenge. Then I saw the picture they attached and all that excitement came to a screeching halt.

“I’m looking for something just like this…” Attached was the work of an artist I recognized. There aren’t too many abstract watercolorists in the world so I’m familiar with just about all of them. This artist is more established than I am and her work goes for A LOT more money than mine does. It immediately became apparent why I was being contacted; I was a photocopier but one that still allowed them to say the work was “original” without the price-tag.

Willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, I asked if there were any elements of my work that they would like to see incorporated; maybe there was another reason they came to me. I informed them that I didn’t feel comfortable doing a recreation of another artist work but I would gladly create a piece inspired by their creations. I’ve found out that this pickle is something that fledgling artists have to get used to. We are moved by the artwork of others and elements of them can be found in our work but we are different. Our direction is different. Our goals are different. Our process is different. So though they may look similar, they aren’t.

In this case, it came down to valuing myself and what I’m trying to do with my work. I’m certainly not in a financial position to turn down commissions, but I just can’t in good conscience be a copycat. Some day, I believe, I will get an even bigger gig and they will be excited to work with me because of the art I create. And it will be my original work that graces the walls and I will be proud because I stuck to my guns and didn’t compromise my moral compass. Until then, I have an unanswered e-mail in my sent mail folder and a reminder that there will always be people who try to take advantage of young artists, trying to get us to work for cheap (or free), but we have the right to say “No, I won’t paint that for you” and sometimes we should do just that.