Monday, July 13, 2009

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal." --Pablo Picasso

Though behind my schedule, I hit the ground running today. I went to bed last night with a lot on my mind, slept on it, had weird dreams, and woke up with my "area of concentration" for my AP Studio Art practice run.

If you are just now jumping in on this blog, click here to catch up on what AP Studio Art has to do with me, what an "area of concentration" is, and why I am doing a practice run this summer.

For the rest of you (or now that you've caught up), here is the area of concentration I have chosen for this series: "Patterns of Behavior: Predator and Prey."

If you are not fluent in the language of art, "pattern" is one of the principles of design. When my students create their AP Studio Art portfolio, they're going to have to choose to submit their work in one of three portfolio categories: Drawing, 2-D Design, or 3-D design. In theory, a student could choose to submit a portfolio in all three categories, but I think that will be a bit ambitious for me and my students in our first year of this exercise.

I have chosen to create my practice portfolio to fit the 2-D Design category requirements. Though my own first love in college was in Drawing (and still is), I also got an emphasis in Graphic Design (all of us got Graphic Design by default back then, plus one additional declared emphasis), I have chosen 2-D Design because of the stated criteria for a 2-D Design portfolio submission. Though there are many things that the readers are looking for when scoring 2-D portfolios, the central and deciding factor in determining its success is how well the student made use of the principles of design in connection with the student's stated objective. (If the stated objective is fuzzy, or the student's idea doesn't translate into the work but the execution and use of the principles of design is good, the readers score to the students’ advantage by ignoring the statement and basing their scores on the work alone).

After reflecting on what I learning in the AP Studio Art training, and reflecting on the work my students have done in the past, I realized that most of their submissions will likely be to the 2-D category. So that's what I decided to focus on.

People who are close to me know that I've been going through a fair amount of.....well.....crap this last couple of years, 99% of which is out of my control. Most of this has been because of unpleasant encounters with family members; but a fair amount has had to do with my work environment. This all came to a bold and brilliant climax resulting from a move from my beautiful Montana to the east coast--a major shock to the system, needless to say.

I am a devoted morning journal writer, and a doodled snake has been side winding its way through my journal pages for about three years now. During the AP Studio Art training he made his way into my class notes, and started talking; just little blurbs, but power-packed.

So, my area of concentration centering on "Patterns of Behavior: Predator and Prey" will connect visual patterns from nature associated with predators and prey to the events which have been snaking through my days, consciousness, subconscious and dreams. On a written and psychological level these things have been very informative. My challenge will be to make them visual, and hopefully they will be art when I'm finished.

Another challenge I will have is that I do not work at a zoo or hang out with poisonous snakes (they have the most beautiful and instructive predator patterns), so I cannot draw these things from observation. I'll have to rely on photos to get the foundations for the images. This is a challenge my students will also face in the fall, so the creation of my own practice portfolio submission informs my teaching yet again: my students need to learn about copyright law concerning visual works of art.

The vast majority of my students think that good art means photo-realistic drawing or painting: if it looks exactly like the photograph or original artwork they were drawing from, then it's "good" art; if it does not, then it is "bad" art. One of my biggest challenges with these students has been getting them to stop calling their near-exact copies of other people's artwork (usually Manga, Disney characters, gaming characters) "good" art. I made some major progress last year when I forbade them to copy anything but a photograph they'd taken themselves. Their art was vastly improved from my point of view, but they still didn't think it was "good" because their photographic compositions were not that great (challenge for next year; progress one step at a time).

Since I will have to borrow images of patterns in nature to do my own series this summer, I thought this would be a great way to teach my students about creating "derivative" works of art:

"To be copyrightable, a derivative work must be different enough from the
original to be regarded as a new work or must contain a substantial amount of
new material. Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting
work will not qualify the work as a new version for copyright purposes.
The new material must be original and copyrightable in itself."

In short, if I (or my students) copy exactly a photograph taken by someone else, I cannot call that my own work of art and copyright it. I can, however, use elements from the photograph as I am planning to do: reproducing patterns from the photograph as a portion of my new work, such that the part copied from the photograph is "different enough to be regarded as a new work or must contain a substantial amount of new material." Since the patterns I will be borrowing and placing in my own artwork will only be a small part of a larger new piece, and they will be altered significantly, I can use photographs I find in my research as references for my new artwork.

I can't underestimate the importance of this lesson for my students! This will likely be a week-long lesson in what is / is not OK when using reference photographs to draw things that aren't readily available in our home/school environment.

As I was working through all of this and thinking about how I will teach it to my students, Picasso came to mind: "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." Of course Picasso wasn't promoting larceny. What he was talking about was the way in which great artists are informed by the art of other great artists; the way in which we participate in a dialogue, a conversation, with many artists from both the present and the past, and even the future, when we study the work of other artists, and create our own. If it were not true that we are all participating in this international time traveling conversation, then what is the point of Art History, or museums, or galleries? We learn from each other, and we respond. That's what my students need to understand about derivative works, and when it's OK (or not OK) to copy.

1 comment:

Ms.Alisha said...

I've never had a 'serious' conversation with my classes about copyright, but I will with my Advanced Drawing/Painting class next year. I love the quote - very poignent. I can't wait to hear more about your AP experience -as I'm still deciding if I want to give it a spin :)