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Be an Original Artist

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There’s a saying out there “Everything has been done before.” I don't know, perhaps that phrase was invented to promote the acceptance of mediocre art. Sure, some things may be inspired by others, but you can always add your own creative twist to it.

Painting by Corot. I was very inspired by him earlier, as I was learning about design. The way he captured trees in the landscape gave me a great reason to venture into the Hawaiian forests with my camera. Myron analyzes his painting in the DVD’s.

“Listen to the advice of others, but follow only what you understand and can unite in your own feeling. Be firm, be meek, but follow your own convictions. It is better to be nothing than an echo of other painters.” ~ Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

This is a Corot inspired scene which I captured in Hawaii. Photograph by Tavis Leaf Glover

I can’t stress this enough. Do everything in your power to be original! If you realize that you are your own unique person, this shouldn’t be too tough. When you see a trending technique, it’s ok to investigate it, but don’t jump on the band wagon and start creating the same exact art as everyone else. Sure, copy others at first when you are learning your way. Especially the masters! Learn something new, and eventually make it your own interpretation. Just don't become a follower, or a cheaper version of the first. Be original and be a leader!

Still confused as to what being original means? Well, let’s take a look at William-Adolphe Bouguereau (one of my favorite painters) and compare his work to one of his students, Elizabeth Jane Gardner. She was a very successful student who later married Bouguereau. Apart from getting his last name, she also got his style and technique down to a tee. In fact, if you look at the following paintings it’s very hard to determine which one is hers and which one is Bouguereau’s. We can safely say that Elizabeth Jane Gardner isn’t being original. She’s using the same subject matter, the same painting technique, the same style…she’s obviously copying Bouguereau. So, who do you think will gain more respect for originality in this case?

Painting on left by Elizabeth Jane Gardner, Painting on right by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Another hack and unoriginal clone of Bouguereau, in my opinion, is Hugues Merle. Yes, he produces amazing paintings and compositions (so does Gardner), but it’s not very original when compared to Bouguereau. It is hard to determine who was influenced by who. I’ve read that Merle was introduced to Bouguereau and was a "considerable rival because of subject and treatment", but we’ll soon learn that Bouguereau was more original no matter who was first on the scene.

We can see that if we compare "mother and child" of the two artists that they are very similar. Why would one be better than the other? Some may say that Merle's painting is better because of the facial expressions, but Bouguereau displays more visual depth and excellent Figure-Ground Relationship. They are both great paintings, that's not the point. The point is, "who is the more original painter?" We can't tell by comparing two paintings, we must look at their body of work. Once we do, we'll see that Bouguereau shine's above the rest.

Painting on left by Hughes Merle, Painting on right by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Now we'll see the paintings that make Bouguereau stand out from the crowd. There’s no denying their superiority over the others. The complexity, the compositions, the subject matter…it all pushes him above the rest. His audience gains more interest compared to the others because of his originality.

Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

When you go to the grocery store to buy a box of cereal are you going to grab the Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats (Bouguereau), or are you going to buy the generic brand that is similar, cheaper, and tastes a little more like sugared cardboard (Gardner, Merle)? If you are just a generic version that doesn't taste as good, then your art will never be picked. Ok, maybe it will be picked because it is cheaper, but that is still a gamble.

Originality or Popularity?

Now, let's say your art is super original like the cereal "French Toast & Vanilla Ice Cream Crunch" then there is no comparison. It may not be the most popular cereal, but you are original and offer quality in design and originality with remarkable flavor. Originality isn't followed by popularity, and popularity doesn't equal originality. Popularity will sometimes be determined by who can afford to market themselves well or use mass advertising…sometimes mediocre products like Budweiser can be mass advertised to a point that you think it's the only beer in the world. But finer beers like my friends homemade "Charlie's IPA" are remarkable.

So you see, originality counts for everything. No one is looking for the next hack, the next generic copy of a copy. Unique vision and originality is what people seek. Your technique, brush stroke, or ability to render value might be spot on, but without originality it will become a victim of mediocrity.

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