Imitation is usually second best

Posted in Debate by Adele Todd on April 12, 2009


Shalini Seereeram 2008, and a knock off by Maisaa Moses, 2009

This morning I opened the paper to be regaled with images that looked like a poor copy of an artist whose work usually gets a lot of attention and regard from the art buying public.

There are a number of issues going on here, all of them with the potential for an emotional response, and that would be unfortunate because it would cloud the point.

It can be argued that in all art making, copying is a sincere form of flattery. An artist is impressed with another artist’s process and wants to achieve that same feeling in his/her own work. So, that person is observed closely and eventually to tell the work apart becomes nearly impossible, Braque and Picasso for example.

Yet, with these two artists, Braque had an excellent track record and he was not in Picasso’s shadow but a colleague and equal.

In the case of the work in the papers today, the observation is about money. The questions I ask, is, surely the gallery involved must realise the similarity between the two artists. They must be marketing this similarity deliberately. If so, what is the advantage to the copied artist?

For the other person, working in very close style to the first, it may be perceived that they genuinely do not know that they are so closely matching the other person. However, this is a tiny island, and the likelihood of this person never seeing the other artist’s work is hardly likely.

So it is down to flattery, and an innate desire to make work like so and so, which in itself is not a crime. To show this copying also is not unethical. The argument is that the image is not exactly like the other. But in this instance, this is not the case, the copy screams the name of the original artist.

For someone aware of many artists works in Trinidad and Tobago, to meet up with this obvious mimicry, makes me do a double take.

It can be argued that Brian McFarlane is copying Peter Minshall, and he still has to traverse the space around him, making it his. He is not soulless, and the argument is provocative and worth discussion. Perhaps it is the scale on which the work is presented that makes the argument more expansive and worthwhile.

To copy has its challenges. What is the seduction, and will the elements of this seduction produce something that has depth in itself? Can what has seduced be enough?

Ultimately the artist is made to either hold to the seduction as their guide, or learn from it and continue to grow. But within that, there still is the marketing of a style that will have a shelf life. What would that be, remains to be seen.


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