02 April 2013

Issues and Truths

After some chatter around my Etsy circle today...
after watching someone (else) I know
deal (again) with the issue of idea theft
and the crossing of intellectual property borders,
I decided to repost- with a few edits-
this blog I wrote over two years ago.

This is one of those uncomfortable posts-
but absolutely EVERYONE in the artistic community
has a place and/or point of view on this issue.

This remains mine.

* * * * *

- September 2010 -

For nearly the past year and a half,
I've worked hard at my craft and at myself.
I've cracked and crumbled and completely fallen away from what I respect.
I've tried with all sincerity to build myself back up to being an artist.
It's been a hell of a ride, this tiny career of mine.
And through the course of this journey, whilst picking my way over trial and error,
struggling to sort out friends from foes,
trying to discover and rediscover myself and my find my voice,
I've come to believe a few key things.

I have slowly assembled my own formula for creating what I believe to be good design.
For me, these are the truths behind the process of making art...
And without these,
what is made is simply a structure.  A form.  A product.
Perhaps pretty, perhaps interesting.
But pretty does not authentic make.
Interesting is not automatic art.

You've asked me before what I think constitutes idea theft.
I've talked to you openly and honestly of my thoughts on this subject.

But let me elaborate,
and perhaps be a bit more gentle, if still direct.

These are the truths that I personally find central to good design:

1.) Inspiration
2.) Intention
3.) Evaluation
4.) Evolution

And in my opinion, a good designer will be able to show evidence of these truths,
not just in spurts, but across their bodies of work.

I thought this was pretty straight forward.
It's seeing or partaking in something we love,
and infusing the essence of that which we loved,
or bits of that essence, into our own work.
"Inspiration" is not a synonym for imitation.
It is not synonymous with simulation.
Inspiration is the seed from which art stems.
The seed, people.
Flowers do not grow from flowers.

Look, if you're making it because you love it,
because it speaks to you,
because you wake up in the morning and your heart and brain and soul sing
and you feel that, regardless of whether or not the world loves it or not,
it MUST be made,
you'll be alright.
I really believe you will be alright.
That you will know success at some point.
If, on the other hand,
you're making it only because it's selling well for someone else
and you just happened to be able to execute their technique,
or find those components . . .
If you're making only for the sake of money,
that's not art.
It is the intention, in my opinion, that makes art . . . art.
** Note: More on this point can be found in the link above,
"I've been pretty clear." **

Look hard at what you've made.
Was it successful?
Was it built from the heart, was it truly yours through and through?
Was it executed as you intended for it to be,
whether that be symmetrical and balanced or gloriously lopsided?
Does it convey your inspiration?
Is it clean? Well-made? Structurally sound and finished to perfection,
be that with an intentional rustic vibe or pristine edges?
Will people look at it and know in an instant that it is your work
or will they mistake it for someone else's?
When you look at it,
do you see you . . . or me?
And be honest.
It's the only way to grow.

If you're not an idea thief,
if you're truly an artist or a designer,
your work will never be static.
It will change, step by step,
it will grow by leaps and bounds over time.

(And by "grow and change",
I don't mean that your style will jump randomly
to whatever design styles are selling well at the time.)

Not just your technical skills,
which can be expected to improve with repeated application,
but your designer's mind-
which like a muscle, when regularly used and stretched,
will expand and become lithe.
You'll dream up new ideas, you'll build upon old ones.
You'll not be content to try on others' shoes.
Rather you'll stomp awkwardly around in your own,
unsure of your footing,
until one day the stiff basic steps you've been practicing become
a dance that is completely yours.

* * *

I don't think that good design has to be complicated.
I don't think that "gaudy" means "good."
DO think that good design has to be thoughtful.
Simply throwing embellishments all over a setting without plan or purpose
is only practicing your technical skills.
And meanwhile, taking another's ideas and soldering them,
hither and thither,
onto your own pieces,
is just . . .
shitty work.
Shitty art.
Shitty action.

Once again, I'm going to say this:
I don't ever want to come off like I have an overgrown ego.
I know very well where my beginnings lie,
and I don't claim to be anywhere near the best on Etsy,
much less the rest of the metal-smithing world.
Everyday I see work that inspires me.
Everyday I see others who are better,
everyday I see great ideas and authentic strides being made
towards making something amazing.
And everyday I try myself to be just a bit more than I was the day before.
I'm never going to be perfect,
you are never going to hear me call myself a leader.

But here's what I will say about me:

I'll never fling something together,
only to look at it after the fact and figure out what it reminds me of,
slap a title on it that is derived from that reminder,
price it so that I undercut my competition,
and then claim to the world that it is dreamt up, soulful art.

I'll continue to follow my heart and try my best at what I do and NOT what you do.
I'll make terrible work some days,
pieces that are plain ugly.
Failures in all aspects other than in what they taught me about technique.
But those failures?  They will be all mine.
Just as every successful piece will be all mine
because it came from within.

I'll continue to be in a constant state of flux between pride and self-doubt,
and I think that's healthy,
as it keeps me pushing forward.

I believe in originality.
In doing the right thing by others.
In being honest with ourselves and other artists
as we all try to make a living do what we love.
In being humble.
In being strong.

I believe in the notion of influence free from mimicry.

But I wish more people felt the same.
There is a serious lack of respect that is running rampant around these parts,
and to add insult to injury...
a frequent denial of this disrespect by those who are being the most disrespectful.

Remember this:

- Vincent Van Gogh

The authentic self is the soul made visible.
-Sarah Ban Breathnach


  1. always good. i wonder if i should send this to the jackaninny that accused me of copying her last week. what a clear delineation of what original work originates from. i think even a whackadoo like she is, could benefit from this posting.

    1. I know mine is only one in a mass of opinions, and I appreciate the support, Wendy.
      Your work is lovely... untouchable. Still, I so understand the anger.

  2. hoping this isn't a rant about spinner rings.

    1. In the first paragraph, she states this is about watching someone else, not her and her work. Pretty sure this isn't about the latest round of spinner rings she recently listed.

    2. This is why I love you, Cathy. Thank you for pointing that out.

  3. I remember the first time you posted this and it's interesting to see how you've changed since then and how I've changed in reading this as well.

    There will always be people who imitate. I think it's the nature of the beast. You discussed the idea of doing things for money rather than for art. I think the people who do this for the sake of money are either: (a) just business people and are after mimicking a good product or (b) kidding to themselves that they are original pieces in the fact that they are making them themselves, if that makes sense. The idea of "art" itself can be a marketing tool. I think people have different belief systems on what is right and wrong. I applaud your stand on what makes you feel comfortable, I always have.

    I also feel sorry for people who copy. When I first started metalsmithing, it was very very easy to be "inspired" by other people's work and see if I could replicate it for myself in my own studio, for my own use (not for sale). I think people forget or haven't matured enough on their own journey to see that people really put their hearts and soul into their pieces. But even when I could successfully solder together some design elements I saw, I knew, even after completing it, that it wasn't mine. Not really, not deep down inside. The thing with copying is that it's like being in a bad relationship. No matter how much you try to tell yourself your partner will change or be someone you want, it isn't in reality. And when you lay your head down at night, you know, in your heart, if the person next to you is your soul mate or not. Much is the same with creations in the studio. I guarantee you there will be a moment in each person's life when they finally realize they are walking around in shoes that don't belong to them. And I don't envy them that.

    1. Agreed. Wholly.

      Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful reply. You've got all my respect, woman. Always have.

  4. Bravo. Bravo. Bravo. I know an idea is my own when God whispers it in my ear for me like a secret between the two of us. I think that everyone who considers themselves an artist struggles with this issue. We truly want our ideas and our work to be original and we actually worry about the possibility that we may have unconsciously picked something up from someone else's design. It's scary to put yourself out there to be ripped off, ridiculed, and re-written. But I guess that's what art is all about. Putting it all out there.

    You write like you create jewelry, girl. With fire.

    1. Thanks, Jo. All we can do is try. It's the not trying and instead, the riding of coattails that I find so sad.

      Putting it all out there... yes.
      Love to you, sister.

  5. it was good the first time around
    even better the second
    imagine what it will be like the third time!!!

    love your spunk lady

    love and light

    1. Thank you, Cat. Love and Light back.

  6. When I first started metalsmithing I was scared I would unintentionally pick sth up from someone else's designs; I never felt an artist, I only felt I was a maker. It was then that I had decided to stop perusing/admiring other people's work, as much as it could be possible living in a rapidly evolving world of technology. Of course, time came by, I had somehow created my own style, I had grown some self-confidence in my work and I understood that I could not keep doing that. Then, I made my jewelry friends swear that if they ever got the slightest feeling I was even remotely copying sb's work, they would tell me to my face.
    Even though I can understand when people are starting out, it is hard to find their own individual style, I can not forgive them when time goes by and they do not evolve; when they do not even try to come up with sth of their own.

    I prefer being taken as a bad/mediocre artist/maker, than a good mimic.

    That said, I can not agree with you more on this subject...

    1. I'm so glad you posted, Jenny. Thank you for taking the time to share your point of view. I agree with the notion of emulation giving way to evolution over time... I think that's natural and perfectly fine so long as the evolution does follow. xx

    2. I agree with you Jenny and hope that in time my style will develop. It is a bit difficult when beginning something new. All the great masters learned as apprentices. However, in time, they became free of that bind to the teacher.

    3. Cindi- such truth. And I think your work has, is, will develop beautifully. <3


  7. i am not a silversmith.
    i AM, however, a collector of original silversmithing and goldsmithing, much of which i have purchased from etsy artists. there is something to be said about purchasing from "etsy" because items are not "commercial-made" or "mass-made".
    i consider myself a friend of MANY etsy artists.
    i have heard from a few etsy artists, their feeling of having been copied or accused of copying.

    so many of these women i consider my friends, and i pray in thanksgiving for them daily....in fact, one day, when i was "counting" my friends and writing out their names, i was astounded at how many "etsy friends" i can claim.

    i learned through "life situations" to look for how i "identify" and try to avoid looking at the differences or what i perceive is "wrong".

    i wonder sometimes if a person is in contact with a higher power and/or the great out-of-doors, is it possible they see the same thing that another artist sees for inspiration in their work?

    there are definite style differences amongst all the collectibles i own. there are, however, only 5 or 6 artists' jewels that i wear on a daily basis.

    that being said, people at work and out in public always notice my silver and gold and stone items and comment on them....and i happily and proudly tell them "my friend ____ made this and you can find their work on etsy."

    oh. and, as a p.s., i'd like to say that etsy has greatly changed [and not for the good] since i joined several years ago. but, seeing as how that is the only place wherein i am able to purchase items from my favourite artists and friends, i hang in there and maintain an active status within etsy.

    * love * to you jess....you know i do, love you, that is....
    and count you as one of my friends....


    p.p.s. your wee bird necklace is around my neck right now....and mixed with a few other artists' items....all my favourites....to remind me i am loved and that i have friends *i* love....

    1. As eloquent and heartfully written as I've ever known from you, lady. I do understand your points. I'm so glad you took the time to share them.

      I agree with the notion that one inspiration can affect the masses. I do believe similar work can innocently be generated by multiple artists in the same span of time. I also understand that trends exist in all markets. Still, I return to the ideas of intention and evolution. While I understand that overlapping exists, I cannot believe it's all benevolent. (I think I covered my POV on this part of the issue a bit more thoroughly in my other post, which is linked above.)

      I love how you "identify" without judging. I admire you beyond words. I understand that my spitfire nature makes me more controversial than a lot of artistic bloggers, and that not everyone will share either my points of view or my ways of expressing them. It means the world that you can converse with me in mutually respectful, loving manner. Thank you for being you, and for accepting me as being me.

    2. holy shit. you are one badass cookie and i love you for it. [i just read your "old" post on the subject.]

      and, having gotten caught up in the middle of "silversmith wars" as i like to call them, i have since decided to NOT take a stand with any one particular artist, but to simply love all the unique and original pieces i have collected. [from the 5 or 6 silver/gold smithies i care about.]

      BUT. *that* being said: yes. yes. i can "see" the copying in some shops. it's quite blatant. and it's enough to make one pull out the old cap gun and shoot off a couple rounds.

      i'll tell you *this* story. i was an up-and-coming artist in my young years. i won ribbons and accolades at shows. my college teacher thought i was the best thing on that side of the mississippi river. then. one day. a gal copied my painting. EXACTLY. didn't even bother to change ANYthing about it to make it look like her own design. i was pissed pissed pissed.
      so. now. i just bead or sew or do silly little watercolours and give it all away. i'm a happy 50-something year old woman taking a stand to love those who love me and ignore those who question who i am.

      and to drive home the point: i love your badass ass.


    3. I love this exchange of ideas...Powerful, beautiful, truthful women opening up to talk art, life, pain, and inspiration! Just wanted to shout out some LOVE to you both. I feel lucky just to be on the periphery of this circle of sisterhood! Nothing like a few kindred spirits to make a gal feel like her soul has found it's mates...

    4. Marie- It loves you back. ;) You whom I never question.

      Sierra- God, you are good stuff. I'm so glad we've "met." <3

  8. It's quite possible that I said "I Love you" too many times when we spoke the other day, so I'll just simply say here that I adore (he hee) the reiteration of your truth. It looks good on you then and now.


  9. I was just telling a friend "you have to see this woman's work, it's so special...her fans snap up everything she makes the moment she lists it, and I think her personal story is infused in her work in a way that makes it uniquely her own." And so I linked her to your page. ;) Your 4 truths sound like a good check-point for an aspiring and even established artist to return to periodically.

    I'm getting back into metalsmithing after a 20 year hiatus, and it's almost scary, how much time I've lost that I could have been finding my voice within it & honing my skills, instead of finding myself floundering now, looking at so much amazing work, and thinking - it's all been done, how the heck do I wash out my brain and create a style that's completely my own, especially at this late stage? Sometimes I don't even know if it's possible.

    My early endeavors in this craft were pre-internet, all we had to draw inspiration from in terms of other metalwork were things like quarterly Metalsmith magazines and images posted around the university metals studio, along with the occasional field trip to a show. Those were my most creative days, I was immersed in art on a daily basis, and a lot less contaminated by a plethora of images and information on what other people were making. Inspiration came in a much more conceptual way, and without the pressure to sell what I made, I was really free to experiment.

    We're all connected, and I think that collective consciousness creates some of that the ebb and flow of trends and influences, but I'm starting to think I need to return to that more pure place of looking within and seeing what evolves as I get back up on that rusty bike and learn how to ride it again. In essence, I need to get off Pinterest..... ;)

  10. I truly believe there are no new ideas in the universe... especially with jewelry. There are innovators and new mediums and using old mediums in new ways. Technique cannot be copyrighted but designs can.

    That said when you are in the business of jewelry making and you make something that resonates of another artist's work then you just might not have the respect of your peers. Really important to moi.