Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,
Rowyn
rowyn

Cheating in Art

I've been thinking about art and "cheating" lately.

Back when I started work on a portrait of Sythyry, I used as the basis for the background a photograph of a public park in Britain. I got it from a website about someone's trip to England. It originally featured two people in the foreground, but I cropped them out of the picture. Then I drew my background in freehand with a tablet, just eyeballing the original for reference. The final background doesn't look much like the original at all, especially since I used flat areas of color, rather than a realistic style.

I've done similar things in other pictures. One of my oil paintings used the face from a make-up ad. Another was drawn from a photograph in a wild life book. The third combined the pose from a catalog with a photo from a wildlife book; I don't think anyone would be able to identify the sources from looking at the original, but I know they were there.

But in the back of my mind, I wonder about this process. Of those artists whose work is objective, probably the majority use photo references. Some of them take their own photos or have someone do the photography specifically for them. (Olivia's husband does all the source photos for her). But I think the less wealthy cull their references from books or the web. And really, how many opportunities do you get to take your own photographs of 18th century sailing vessels?

Another odd aspect of this is that my mind thinks it's all right to copy a photograph freehand and call it "my art" -- but if I traced it, that would be wrong. Even if I labored for hours on my freehand drawing, until it looked, pixel-for-pixel, like the photograph, that'd still be okay. But cut-and-pasting in the original photograph as, say, a background -- no! Bad Rowan! No biscuit! Even if the two results were indistinguishable to anyone else, I'd still think the freehand version was "good" and that using a cut-n-paste copy of it was "bad".

The latter appears to be a question of "cheating" rather than "ethics". And "cheating" in terms of "cheating myself". I learn more about drawing by doing it freehand than by tracing, and certainly more than I do by taking someone else's photo and slapping it in. (Slapping in photos almost invariably looks bad, too, but that's another issue).

But there's an ethical issue lurking there: when is it "my art" and when is it "something I copied"? Even if an exact freehand reproduction could be considered good practice, it can't be considered good art. Where exactly is that line?

I tried making a poll to see where other people draw the line on this issue, but I think there are enough variables that the poll will only be so helpful in eliciting opinions. Comments explaining your view, whether you're an artist or not, would probably be more useful. And certainly welcome. :)

"Without Permission" should be interpreted as "permission not obtained but not explicitly forbidden" -- ie, no notices in the book or on the website saying 'don't do that'.
Poll #331999 Art and Ethics

Using another's photograph as a reference without permission:

Always ethical
4(33.3%)
Ethical only if your use of the work looks different from the original (eg, changing the clothes on the model, or the color scheme, but still recognizable)
3(25.0%)
Ethical only if your work looks substantially different from the original (Using a human model to draw a furry picture)
5(41.7%)
Always unethical
0(0.0%)
Other (explain in comments)
0(0.0%)

Tracing from someone else's photograph without permission:

Always ethical
0(0.0%)
Ethical only if your work looks different from the original (change the clothes on the model, or the color scheme, but still recognizable)
3(30.0%)
Ethical only if your work looks substantially different from the original (Using a human model to draw a furry picture)
2(20.0%)
Always unethical
5(50.0%)
Other (explain in comments)
0(0.0%)

Incorporating someone else's photograph without permission (cut-and-pasting into a collage, using a forest scene as the background for original figures, etc.):

Always ethical
0(0.0%)
Ethical only if your work looks different from the original (change the clothes on the model, or the color scheme, painting snow onto trees, etc. -- still recognizable)
2(18.2%)
Always unethical
9(81.8%)
Other (explain in comments)
0(0.0%)

Would your answers to the above change if the image referenced was a painting, statue, or some other media than 'photograph'?

Yes, it's less ethical to reference a painting than a photograph
0(0.0%)
No.
12(100.0%)
Yes, it's more ethical to reference a painting than a photograph
0(0.0%)

If you need permission, whose do you need?

The photographer
3(25.0%)
The model
0(0.0%)
The owner (if private property is involved)
0(0.0%)
The original creator (if a photograph of a statue or a painting)
0(0.0%)

Does it make it ethical if ...

The work is in the public domain and the original creator is dead (eg, the Mona Lisa)
0(0.0%)
The work is not in the public domain, but the original creator is dead or no longer holds the rights? (eg, Mickey Mouse, Superman)
0(0.0%)
The work is in the public domain, but the original creator is NOT dead?
0(0.0%)
The work is obscure, but professional (eg, a Glamour Shots photograph you come across on someone's website, or a photograph from a wildlife book)
0(0.0%)
The work is amateur (eg, photographs on a "my summer vacation" homepage)
0(0.0%)
You're only doing it for practice and do not intend to display the work or profit from it
0(0.0%)
You attribute it, even if your attribution is poor ("I found the reference for it on this Geocities webpage, but I couldn't figure out where he got it and the page is gone now")
2(18.2%)
It's a minor part of the composition ("I drew the figures and most of the background but I didn't like how my sky looked so I cut-n-pasted this photograph of sky and clouds in")
0(0.0%)
You intend to display the work, but not for profit (eg, posting it on a webpage, giving it as a gift, hanging it in your home).
0(0.0%)
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