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imitation, inspiration or coincidence?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 · 7 Comments

It’s hard to know what to think or do when you come across another artist’s work that looks a bit too much like your own. In some cases the work is an outright theft – little more than a replica of your artwork that the artist has passed off as his own.

But what about the more nuanced similarities we see between works of art? How do you think about artwork you come across that is not an outright copy but feels inspired by your own? Sometimes the reaction can be one of anger or panic, but I think there are some important points to consider…

louise borgeoise_amanda blazier

(Top left: “Untitled” by Alejandro Corujeira, “Ode à l’oubli” by Louise Bourgeois (top right and bottom left), bottom right: “Gather” by Amanda Brazier)

+ Artwork can look very similar and yet be unrelated.

Two people can arrive at the same place having taken different paths. I’ve been convinced an artist (let’s call her Artist A) was highly influenced by another artist (Artist B) only to discover that artist A had never heard of the artist B. Sometimes the explanation is that both artists were influenced by another artist (Artist C). Other times different influences and backgrounds bring artists to a similar place.


+ All art references older art, and there are a lot of references.

The history of art is quite old. If you think you’re doing something totally new, you’re probably wrong. There were probably others doing the same thing before you.


+ Don’t assume you are the one to have inspired the artist.

This relates to the previous point. If you think you’re the only one making a certain type of art, do some research and make inquires with some respected art professionals. You may find you have company. And they might have influenced the artist, not you.


+ You may have inspired the artist unconsciously.

How many images do we see a day? Too many to fully absorb and process, yet we are all influenced by these images and messages, even those that aren’t consciously processed in the brain. The more time an artist spends scrolling through images on flickr or Pinterest, the more likely it is that they are unconsciously influenced by these images.  One of those images might be your work.


+ Yes, you may have inspired the artist consciously.

If the artist is respectful then this is OK.


To finish up…

*There is never an excuse for copying someone’s work.

*If you’re not sure what it means to be respectful of the artists you admire then do some reading or ask other artists.


Tags: Art

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kari // Aug 1, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Great thoughts – the boundaries between influence, inspiration, copying, and imitating can be some tricky, sticky territory, especially with all of the images we briefly encounter every single day (I’m thinking Pinterest for sure) that unconsciously influence us, as you mentioned. I’ve had minor panic attacks before over seeing someone’s work that looks similar to my own, thinking it would look like I copied from them, even though I hadn’t even been aware of that artist before.

  • 2 Kate // Aug 1, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Hi Kari,

    For many artists this brings about an understandably emotional response – you don’t want others copying your work and you don’t want to be accused of copying the work of others.

    We think of art as totally unique and individualistic, but it is also highly influenced by the outside world – what we see, observe and experience.

    I wrote this post is to make it a little less scary for artists who find similarities in their work. To put aside the very serious topics of copying and plagiarism for a minute to recognize that art can be similar and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  • 3 Kati // Aug 1, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Thanks for this article! I tend to do a bit too much research in creating new works which leads to analysis paralysis where I won’t create anything because it looks like something that I didn’t even know about before I hit the search button. It is good to be reminded that people can have similar styles or even end products without one stealing from the other. There is a definite difference between influence and plagiarism!

  • 4 Amanda // Aug 1, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I’ve had similar moments like Kari’s. It’s like seeing a picture of someone else who at first glance looks like you. What a strange feeling! In most cases when you dive deeper you can see where the difference lie. While in school, we all worked so close to each other, lived in the same city and were taught by the same teachers. Our work started to echo each others, but it was a great way to see the line between “inspired by” and “copy of.” And you know if anyone crossed that line they got told off.

    I like to keep in mind the Richard Harding Davis’ quote, “The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or to say a new thing in an old way” but in terms of art creation. Even if it’s simply new to me.

  • 5 Kate // Aug 2, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Lovely responses!

    Amanda, that’s a great quote!

  • 6 Claudia // Aug 2, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    I just wanted to say a word about inspiration vs. copying: “appropriation”. There is truly very little that is “original” including art and many other creative outlets. Sometimes appropriating others’ work is a useful method of working– it can help one find their own ‘voice’ in their work. It gives the artist a chance to make the work similar, feeling the elements that they were drawn to in the first place and move through the process of discovery. I found the examples very different in many ways, yet inspired by a similar narrative. All lovely.

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