Keeping Integrity in the World of Social Media Art
For many of you who have been following me on Instagram for a while now, you know that I have previously expressed frustration around “copying” in the art world, specifically in regards to social media. I am aware that there are many artists out there who don’t share my same sentiments and that okay! I am not here to “divide the art community” as some have said, rather I am here to open up a dialogue about something that has continued to come up in my life over the last year or so. This is a dialogue that I know many people have been waiting for and many people have felt stung by this aside from myself, so being the confrontational person I am I decided to confront it head on in the best way I know how - through words.
Before I get into the meat of why we are here I want to start by telling you a bit about my experience with being harshly accused of copying another artist.
The photo I chose for this blog post is no coincidence. That is the photo that started a shit storm between myself and another watercolor artist. I had been inspired by this artist long before I started painting but when I saw her combine some of my favorite items - moons and crystals, I was determined to learn how. I admittedly got most of my inspiration from what I found on Instagram. I couldn’t afford watercolor classes and it seemed easy to just learn from other artists I found on Instagram. At the time I thought nothing of it, I thought I was learning and being inspired by my favorite artist, so I tagged her in this photo, giving her credit for the inspiration. Within an hour I had a long message from this artist siting “intellectual property” and mentioned lawyers if I didn’t take down the art that looked like hers. She actually went through my Instagram and found all of the photos that slightly resembled hers and asked me to take them down. I was so embarrassed that I immediately complied with her requests, apologized and let her know I had no intention of stepping on her toes. At that time I think I had 1,500 followers on that specific account. This artist had over 100,000 followers. I kid you not. Because I was so ashamed and embarrassed and immediately assumed this artist hated me I told her I would unfollow her so she doesn’t t think I am copying her any longer. She said “oh honey that’s not what I want” and it ended there. A few months later I started this account @jessicayoungart. I started this account in August during my honeymoon (in Costa Rica during a rainstorm that never ended haha) and because it was an art account I started seeing a lot of artists on my feed. Since this artist is so well know (remember 100K for followers) she kept popping up and I would look at her stories and photos from a distance because, well, she still inspired the fuck out of me even though I wasn’t doing watercolor any longer. Within one day of my starting this account I had another long, this time nasty, message from her siting my mental health struggles and accused me of stalking her. I was blown away. I tried to respond but she blocked me on all forms of social media. Now let me be clear here: I obliged when she asked me to take things down, I tried to avoid this by tagging her in the art and I unfollowed her to give her piece of mind that I would no longer copy her. I was kind, gentle and operating from a place of genuine hurt. At the time I didn’t quite understand, she taught workshops and courses about how to create art like hers, she promoted equanimity in the art community and was so well known for her light - why was she targeting me? To this day I may not understand why she was so nasty about it but it is something that has stuck with me every single time I create art.
Fast forward to my @jessicayoungart account starting to grow...at this point I was so horrified to share my art after my interaction above but I knew I had stumbled upon a type of art I did not want to overlook: alcohol inks. I had already been experimenting with acrylic pouring and wanted to expand my skill set. This time, I was wise about how I learned the steps to creating this style of art. Believe it or not, when I started learning about alcohol inks I didn’t even look at Instagram as a resource. I had no idea what alcohol inks were let alone that there was an entire community on Instagram of alcohol ink artists. I learned alcohol inks through meditation, deep reflection and a few basic videos on YouTube videos and tutorials. Now let me tell you, when I first tried inks I was TERRIBLE. I had no idea what I was doing and most of what I created looked like mud. So what did I do? I walked away from it for a few weeks and found inspiration elsewhere. I did not decide that because I couldn’t figure it out on my own that I would scour Instagram for artists with a style I like and ask questions on exactly how they did it. I have nothing against people asking for questions and tips from their inspirations BUT asking for basic pointers is a lot different than asking “what colors did you use, how did you complete this, can you teach me how to make this style of art”. I get those questions on almost every single post, which is why many comments go unanswered because I literally can’t keep up with the questions. If people aren’t asking questions in comments, they’re sending me DM’s. It almost never ending. THAT is what I am talking about. I speak about this not only because it is my experience but the experience of many other well-known alcohol ink artists who are too afraid to stir the pot but who I have spoken to at length about this.
When I finally tried again with the inks after my creative break, something clicked and I just got it. The thing was though, I couldn’t complete something I liked, unless I meditated before the piece, cleansed the piece and utilized crystal healing to guide me to the colors and flow I was hoping to follow. It literally was only through my intuition that I could create something beautiful. The craft of creating alcohol ink art for me became more of a spiritual awakening than learning a cool craft. I had never been able to mediate so deeply, I was never able to connect with a blank piece of paper, the way I could before completing a piece of alcohol ink. I was so thrilled that I had finally found something that not only grounded me but also sent me flying through the stars. I was SO excited to share!!! That’s when I discovered the growing world of alcohol ink and fluid art in Instagram. I was hesitant to start sharing due to my previous experience but I did it anyway. Slowly the account started to grow, it grew especially fast when I would share my time-lapse videos. As soon as I started sharing the videos, the questions started pouring in. At first I was excited but then I started to realize I was spending more time teaching people than actually doing the art! I eventually became comfortable enough to start designing an e-course so that I could maybe make the questions diminish and I could focus more on creating. Eventually though the idea of course became less and less attractive as I saw emerging artists copying established alcohol ink and fluid artists, very subtly but obvious to anyone who understands the process that goes into developing your own style in the abstract world. If I posted a piece with a certain medium, the next day 5 of my followers are using that medium on their art. If I posted a technique different than what others had seen, a technique I thought was unique, I would get 10 questions on how I did it and the next day 10 people are trying the same technique. I would add a twist to my style and that twist was suddenly someone else’s “intuition”. At the same time I had other artist friends, who had different styles of art, dealing with folks actually copying their art EXACTLY with no credit to them. So naturally my frustration grew as I realized how frequently this was happening. What frustrated me more is that people were constantly saying that myself and these other artists should be “grateful” that people were copying. Even since posting about this blog post on my Instagram people have come to me with messages saying:
”If you post it on social media you will be copied”
”Pray, meditate and keep new ideas coming so your 3 steps ahead of the people who copy>
”Operate from a place of abundance instead of lack”
”Be flattered they’re copying you”
”In art school you learn and grow from studying other artists, how is that different?”
”I am an old time artist and this isn’t an issue for me, I love when people copy me it makes me change my game up!”
My response to these comments is this: Posting art on social media should not be an excuse for artists to lack integrity and become lazy about learning a style of art. I meditate before every piece and that is why I have such a deep connection to the piece, when someone emulates that it almost feels like they have stolen part of my spirit. I operate from abundance as often as possible, hence why I am in the place of abundance I am in at this point in my life. My instagram account may be popular but I am making a good deal of money off of this art and it has become part of my livelihood, not just a hobby. I know that I have a gift and a talent that can not be taken, I know that I have everything I need and I don’t feel my lack needs to be filled by making others feel small. However I don’t think that having an open dialogue about this and expressing friustration is operating from a place of lack. If I was out messaging and harassing every artist who I felt was copying me then OKAY I would totally be operating from a place of lack. But I am not doing that and I wont do that. As for the old school artists out there who had the art school experience before social media, let me ask you - if you turned in a piece of art after studying a famous artists work, and that piece was a direct emulation of that artist, would your professor accept that work as yours? When you go to find inspiration from art museums and artists from the past, do you break down their process step by step in hopes of creating a replica? Or do you take pieces of what that artist has inspired you with and turned it into your own unique interpretation? THAT is the difference between inspiration and copying.
So with all that said, here are my tips for emerging artists that are looking for inspiration but are afraid of copying:
- find inspiration outside of Instagram! Go outside, disconnect from your devices and connect with the real world. Get inspiration from the colors of the sky, the grass, the flowers and plants. If all you fuel your creative mind with is the feeds of other artists, how do you expect to grow?
- Take online courses, watch YouTube tutorials and join Facebook groups dedicated to your style of art. There are a ton of awesome pages out there with lots of info readily shared and available.
- Don’t get all of your knowledge and resources from questions you ask on social media. While we might not mind the questions, chances are we are taking up a lot of time answering and one less question would be so helpful. Before asking an artist a question, google it or try to find out on your own first. If that fails and your still stumped, ask away.
- Wheh you ask as question on a post about the artists work, don’t expect an answer. Sure it’s great if they answer but it shouldn’t be assumed that just because you asked, I have to answer. I have had people harass me several times for not answering questions. I even had someone who wasn’t even following troll through all my posts and find every question I didn’t answer, what did shed do? She started answering the questions and accusing me of being greedy!! Please don’t be that person lol.
- Questions are okay as long as they aren’t asking the artist to describe step by step their process. Asking what paint they are using, why they utilize a certain technique, etc is OKAY, its the questions that insinuate we should be sharing our process so someone else can have the same process.
- Take regular social media breaks. I mean for an entire day or more. No checking feeds or comparing yourself to other artists. I think comparison is one of the issues at the heart of all of this. We feel inadequate in our own style so we compare and contrast and end up creating things that awkwardly look like someone else’s.
On the same token here is how artists can deal when they feel their work is being copied:
- Breathe and remember you have a gift that no one can take from you.
- do NOT attack said people, maybe gently let them know how you’re feeling but no one should ever shame another human for something.
- Stick with your style. I’ve seen a lot of artists flip flopping their style and technique to keep up and if you are truly connected to your process and craft, you wont have to worry about the others piggybacking.
Design Sponge has a great blog post that addresses most of this and think they do a great job speaking to what this blog post is all about, here are some of the images from the blog and Ive attached a link to the post below.