Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cheating in Art?

Posted by: Dave

I remember when I was in art college (referred to as the dark times) I was working on an oil painting of figures in a desert landscape. My roommate was in the illustration program and worked primarily with the software program Maya;  though he had an extensive drawing background.  I would often ask why he had put down his drawing tools for the computer, often inferring that he had given up something more valid, more challenging, and something that was more "art" since computers could do some of the work for you. He said to me one day "Art is about creating a window into a world, would you agree?" I did. He then said "in your painting, it's only one view from one angle, one time of day, one feeling... in mine I can literally go anywhere. My possibilities are endless and that is my goal." This opened up my mind a bit.  If his means of executing his art meant he could accomplish his goals, then was it really cheating or in any way less valid.  Of course, we all know that computers are just a trend and most likely won't stay around long.

Which brings me to the question, is there cheating in art?  For me, "cheating in art" now seems like a childish thing to say when someone doesn't like how someone else does things.  "You cut in line, you cheated" or "no peeking, you cheated" or "you had access to insider trading for the frozen orange juice concentrate industry, you cheated."  I find so often that people discredit art and artists after they learn of their process.  So the question is, should it be the end product that speaks for itself?  Should process be considered and where is the line drawn?  That being said, here is a list of aids I use to help create my work.  I would wonder why some are considered cheating and some are not depending on who you ask.

1) a black mirror
2) a knitting needle for measuring
3) photography
4) a mahl stick
5) color studies
6) drawing transfers
7) my wife's advice
8) coffee
9) ADD meds
10) viewfinder
11) hiring models

For the sake of the article and reader sanity, I will only touch upon a couple of these.

First up, photography.  So is photography and hiring models cheating?  Some artists feel you should be able to make up everything from imagination for it to have any real originality.  However, as we know from history, very few people "make up stuff" out of their heads, including many fine artists and famous illustrators, including Parrish, Rockwell, and Frazetta. Reference is integral to making anything look realistic, at least it has been for me. Even many fantasy illustrators will sculpt miniature dinosaurs, ships, etc, just to insure...ensure......make certain the lighting is correct. But again, this leads the question, should you only work from life as reference, or are photographs ok?  As many of us know, models are pricey, and their time is limited.  I use photos when I have no other choice, and defaulting to nothing but self portraits even though I look exactly like Ryan Gosling is not always what I want to do.  I use photos at times because I want to make the art I want to make, and often it entails figures that cannot pose for me for long sittings.  Many people however don't feel that way.  I wanted to show a couple examples of some paintings I liked that utilized photographs, and in my opinion, did it well.


Second on the plate, is it ok to reference the past in your work?  Is it derivative?  Is every idea expected to be completely original?  If so, I might be screwed.  Pretty sure everything that can be done in art, has been done, and legend has it people have painted fisherman, hunters, and still lifes before me.  However, there is a lot of bad info on the internet so it might not be true and I invented the genre.   I am doing a piece right now that is completely inspired by Raeburn's "Archers", both in subject matter and some compositional elements.  I wanted to include some examples of artists who I admire who utilized the past for inspiration, and in my opinion, still bringing something new to the table.


Is having help from other artists cheating?  If Kate points out a mistake, does that discredit my efforts?  (And I am referring to a painting mistakes in this case and not how she hates how I use the sink as a mop bucket instead of filling up the real one.  Seriously, try it, it's awesome.) Now, I am not saying that everyone needs to follow the path of the professional student, but if I have two colors studies and I don't know which to choose, then I get  a second opinion. I know there is a stereotype of the lonestar artist genius, but art is much more of a community than that I would hope at least.  Bottom line is, everyone is going to have an opinion, and sometimes these opinions help you out in your work.

Lastly, is memorizing all the words that use an "X" cheating when you play scrabble.  Kate's family does this and I say, damn right it's cheating. Which brings me to the main point of this article;  how much I hate playing scrabble with Kate's family.  They are so much more literate than I am, and will never let me use words like "turdify" or "spazztastic" because they aren't in their little dictionary of English "words."



27 comments:

  1. Two words - just awesome! Both usable in Scrabble! Thanks!

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  2. Honestly, I last heard the "cheating" accusation in High School. By college, the advice - from instructors - was, "It doesn't matter how you get there, as long as you're happy with he end result." I tend to lean toward the second sentiment.

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  3. Totally agreed! I even use both Oil and Acrylic paints w/in the same painting, giving respect to their respectove chemistry

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  4. I think cheating is hard to define. For example, in commercial art, tracing certain elements in a large illustration in order to meet a deadline might be permissible. But personally I would not want to purchase a fine art still life from someone who traced a photo in order to paint it.

    As for computers, in commercial art there are many revisions and tight deadlines, and computers make these revisions infinitely easier. I think the problem with computers is that people think they will make you a good artist. They don't. They make you quicker and more efficient, but they don't make you any better.

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  5. When I asked my son what he thought about referencing photos to create paintings, he said "Oh, Mom, that train left the station 400 years ago."

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  6. I think a lot of this comes down to the dual purpose art serves in our culture.

    First is the artwork itself, which obviously stands on its own and doesn’t change when we learn how it was done, what inspired it, or even if someone else helped create it.

    Next is the fact that art is also a way of judging someone's personal skill, creativity, or “genius”. One may look at someone's drawing in an art class and conclude that they have incredible drawing skills. If we then find out that they used a projector, we feel they tricked us when we realize they might have no skill at all.

    I’m reminded of the film “Tim’s Vermeer” here. If Vermeer used the optical device the film theorizes (and I think the film is quite convincing that he did) he might not have had much technical skill as a painter at all. The beauty of the paintings are unaffected by this and his skill with composition and aesthetics in setting up the scene portrayed are akin to a great photographer, which is an art-form in its own right. The fact that Vermeer hid this, makes him somewhat of a cheater, since I’m sure many admired his skill in being able to paint something so much more realistically than his contemporaries, who might have lacked this technological aid. It would be similar to a bike rider using a bike with a hidden motor and beating his rivals.

    I rarely use projectors, not because I think it’s cheating, but because I’m not trying to create the same photo realistic type of painting Vermeer did. I enjoy the act of drawing and change a lot when drawing out large paintings from many references. For smaller works I don’t even draw it out beforehand since it is easier to get the brushwork I desire by working in large masses. A projector would be a hinderance to the type of paintings I do.

    I don’t feel superior to people who use such things, however, since they are going for something different than I am. Norman Rocwell used a projector to save time and I love his work. He could also draw, by the way, and didn’t keep his methods a secret. As long as an artist isn’t trying to fool someone about how they work to amaze people with their non-existent skills, then I have no problem with it.

    On the flip-side, David Hockney implies that all artists who paint realistically use forms of camera obscuras, which is ridiculous. The silliest proof he gives is by showing how badly he can draw something by eye, which is beyond absurd. I would love to publicly challenge Hockney to a draw-off where we both draw a portrait or figure completely free-hand to prove it can be done without a projector. Yourself, Jacob Collins, Juliette Aristides, my wife, Susan Lyon, and dozens of other artists could do even better than I could, no doubt. Any artist with the proper life-drawing training and practice can produce an accurate drawing by eye and careful head-measuring or using sight-sizing. It is a technical skill and Hockney’s claims go beyond Vermeer to try and discredit living artists who paint realistically and well, in my opinion.

    The problems inevitably occur when the test of skill overshadows the end result. A lot of us like to think that it’s only the painting that matters, but with art contests, all the money in collecting, and the term “genius painter” thrown around so much, art can get mired in a lot of other issues.

    That’s my two cents and thanks for the interesting post!

    Scott Burdick (-:

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  7. It just seems that in today’s era of photo realism and digital painting, the question did you paint from a photo comes up, people really seem to want to know. I trained as illustrator back in the day when it was a career path if you studied in the field of commercial art, now of those disciplines are cataloged under Graphic Design. The answer is pretty simple to me that one is illustration and the other is fine art. And both are valuable. When it came to illustration it was for profit first and I would use any means possible to achieve the end result, photos, projectors, etc. Deadlines, deadlines, thank the Gods I don’t have to do that anymore. Usually when I hear people talking about this issue it’s because they are struggling with it and trying to justify it. Just be honest with your customers and it will be ok, beside your very talented and your skill will always rise to the top.

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  8. Burdick has said it all.
    Machine made is not bench-made, and anything forced, is unnatural!

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  9. Good read. And yes, we all know computers are a passin fancy.

    As a former newspaper editor, I will make one suggestion: please put your byline at the top of the article, so your readers will know who the writer is. I assumed I was reading a post by Kate until I read the words "my wife's advice." Dang, that was mentally jostling.

    But I must also say: your blog is one of my favorites, and I wouldn't pick on little things if I didn't think it was worth it.

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    1. At the bottom it says who wrote each article, though sometimes its a team effort and then we specify.

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  10. Really enjoyed this article as I am an artist also and I am extremely inspired by the Masters. My blog is titled Painting with the Masters. I have heard that my work is derivative and don't really care. I always use photos from the Masters but I change so many things not to look just like their work. My work is a homage to them, not copied. As an artist in these modern times I feel that we can use what ever we want to help us create. Many artists can't paint but they can draw. Many artists can copy but they cannot turn it into their own. I care only about achieving the end result. Did it make me happy to paint it? Did it turn out the way I wanted? Was my collector happy? Yes! Good enough for me! Do what makes you happy, what feels right and don't worry about what others say. http://www.kmadisonmooreportfolio.com

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  11. There is no cheating in art. (Well, maybe "hand-embellishing" a reproduction and selling it as original, might be.) Doesn't matter if you use projectors, cameras, measuring tools or black mirrors. The result is the important thing. Now, for me personally, I like to keep my painting life low-tech, so the fewer of these "artist aids" I use, the happpier I am. And I derive a certain pleasure from working from life. There's nothing quite like following a graceful curve in a model with a pencil. Great post!

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  12. Photography:
    I heard a great quote once - "Always cheat."

    I took this to mean use whatever medium necessary in order to make terrestrial the vision that is blocked up in your mind. As you reach for the ruler, the camera, the eraser guard, etc... it is the mind that recounts the judgements of instructors', spectators' and institutions' qualification of a piece of work as "art." During that time you are struggling internally whether to use a camera for the emotional effect you need in order to best succeed with your artistic vision, some other artist has made a similar scene with a high level of success by using whatever tool necessary. At the end of the day, if the successful artist used a camera, but the work goes beyond the story of the aid of a camera, then they have only succeeded in using a tool to create a great story and the camera was just a tool.

    I think the main proponents of not using the camera in representational art: Edward Minoff, Jacob Collins, Michael Klein... make strong arguments that painting from a picture is painting what that camera distilled from visual reality - your painting a photograph. Or, that you are not worshipping the object or the sitter and seeing light pass around the subject, but rather you are staring at a black mirror of a moment in the past wherein the zest and feeling is often removed by the locked picture.

    At the end of the day, would Andrew Wyeth or Antonio Lopez Garcia's work be as great as it is if they had used a camera? The stories behind each piece that truly make their work penetrate art history would certainly not be as deeply penetrating or romantic.

    Photography is a great tool, and a tool of our time for painters, but when it speaks louder than the feeling or narrative of the artwork, the observer will certainly notice the quietness of the work and move on.

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  13. I think there are always consequences to "cheating". For instance, if you trace, you're not going to really learn how to draw.

    Part of appreciating art is knowing how the artist made it.

    Some "cheating" is necessary. I mean, how far are you going to take that term? Is it cheating that you traced your lineart using a lightbox from your own sketch? Is it cheating that you didn't make your own supplies? Is it cheating to use digital software at all? Is it relying on technology like artificial light so we can work late at night? The term is so undefined in art that I shy away from applying it to something that by nature is meant to be abstract.

    I think two things are important: informed consumers (that know generally how the art process happens), and honest artists (who are willing to admit if they used a reference, etc.). That being said, mystery in the art process to consumers is also an important element. "Cheating" is just a method for an end product that, no matter which way you put it, is cool. If you use "more reliant "cheating" methods, such as tracing a photo, the corners you cut are only going to hurt you as an artist. That's something you have to take on yourself.

    Perhaps it is important to go back to think about what are actually is...an expression. And that can be done any way, really.

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  14. Great post! Just wondering- Can you please credit the images- I can identify only about 1/3 of the artists and it's driving me CRAZEEE!!!

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    1. The living artists are Travis Schladt, Daniel Greene, Jeremy Lipking, and myself. I believe the dead ones are Zorn, Raeburn, some dude who painted deers, and some guy who painted ladies.

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  15. This idea of cheating in art is something that comes up every now and then, as if there is some bad ass "art cop" out there to just waiting for the chance to make an arrest. To me, the whole point of art is to be open to new possibilities of creating beauty. As such, the only rule an artist should never break is to plagiarize another's work. Being inspired to do your own version is just fine, but to copy someone elses painting an call it your own, or making a painting based off of photos that someone else took or that are copyrighted is a big no-no.

    A few years ago there was an artist, who will go unnamed, who it turned out was using a popular fashion photography website as subjects for his (or her) paintings. Someone had gone online and posted all of her (or his) paintings alongside their coresponding copyrighted fashion photo. It was a pretty devistating blow. Galleries stopped showing his (or her) work and I haven't seen or heard from this artist in quite a while.

    There have been other outbursts of drama in the gallery scene of artists referencing easily found photos from online Google searches. The temptation to do that is great. But even though the law that defines what constitutes plagiarism can be vague, I've noticed that the community of artists and galleries have a much stricter attitude about it.

    I used to reference images from the web too. But I am also a Maya/ 3DS Max/ZBrush, etc user and a 12 year veteran as a character artist in the 3D game industry. So I decided to put that experience to use on my own art and decided around that time to create all my painting references in 3D. That way every single thing would be mine, from every eyelash to every blade of grass. It is very time consuming to make an entire scene in 3D and then paint it on canvas or panel, but it has worked well for me over the years.

    Thanks for posting this very interesting topic! If you would like to see some of my work, you can check out my home page at www.jbrophy.com

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  16. My humble opinion: Art is - in a way - all about cheating. We cheat ourselves to think there is something like this in our world. You can not measure it, you can not objectively evaluate it. The only real art is the art of looking at things.

    That ugly thing that is happening in the official world of "art" is just a thirst for money and fame. Success of an artist is usually defined by the ability of galleries (or similar publishing companies for various media like music etc.) around him (or her) to convert the piesces of "art" to money.

    It's not what it looks like at the first glance. It's not some extraordinary ability, magic, gift from god or any other fairytale creature. Art is in our mind. It's that part of us that allow us to feel deep and complex emotions while we don't have any logical reason for it.

    Art is our imagination, and exist only there.

    Cheating in art is as impossible as being dead while dancing, like being pregnant but still a virgin. That's what it is like.

    Of course, there are some laws that tell us something different – copyright and such. But laws change, and in some parts of the world, these laws are meaningless. These things are not telling us even the tiniest bit of truth about real values.

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    1. Hi Unknown, Glad you feel that way. I'm sure you won't mind if I appropriate your artwork and sell reproductions of it as my own.

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  17. My humble opinion: Art is - in a way - all about cheating. We cheat ourselves to think there is something like this in our world. You can not measure it, you can not objectively evaluate it. The only real art is the art of looking at things.

    That ugly thing that is happening in the official world of "art" is just a thirst for money and fame. Success of an artist is usually defined by the ability of galleries (or similar publishing companies for various media like music etc.) around him (or her) to convert the piesces of "art" to money.

    It's not what it looks like at the first glance. It's not some extraordinary ability, magic, gift from god or any other fairytale creature. Art is in our mind. It's that part of us that allow us to feel deep and complex emotions while we don't have any logical reason for it.

    Art is our imagination, and exist only there.

    Cheating in art is as impossible as being dead while dancing, like being pregnant but still a virgin. That's what it is like.

    Of course, there are some laws that tell us something different – copyright and such. But laws change, and in some parts of the world, these laws are meaningless. These things are not telling us even the tiniest bit of truth about real values.

    ReplyDelete