When I (Don't) Paint My Masterpiece

FreshPlusGrocery, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

So, there’s this thing about photographers that drives me a bit…shall we say…lulu. When a painter sees a wonderful painting, a real work of art, he or she thinks, “oh, wow! Look at that. How wonderful!” When a photographer see a wonderful photo, he or she thinks, “oh wow! Look at that. I need to go there and take that!”

It’s as if the photographer had no hand in making the work at all. The photograph is reduced to “nice subject” or “interesting place” rather than admitting any kind of technique or even any “hand” of the photographer.

We all know you can’t take the same photo twice, yet photographers keep on trying. Rather than enjoy it when another photographer creates something of beauty, they copy, copy, copy.

Now, maybe it’s because photography is a mimic art anyway. A lot of photographers rely upon nature to get their “beauty,” nature rather than vision or craft. Maybe it’s because the technique, as many like to remind us as photographers, is really just “so you pushed a button” where a painter has a lot to do to paint. Maybe it’s because painters have more of a “hand” in their work-painting is viewed as very unique because it has the artist’s touch in the work, but, for whatever reason, photography is seen as “I can copy that” while painting is viewed more as “oh, well done.”

Photographers almost never copy painters either. They almost never see a painting, stop, and think, “Hmmm. I want to shoot that!” They always seem to copy other photographers and photographs. Makes you (almost) wonder where they get ideas for new photographs, right? I mean, if everybody is just copying each other, who brings in the “fresh blood?”

Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s there, you just have to look for it. Seek out creative photographers, and see what they are doing. It might surprise you. There are creative people working in every medium, they are there, even if we have to keep reminding ourselves about them. Now, sometimes, they might “mis-step” and produce something you don’t like. That’s fine, all well and good, just part of the process. But, give the creative people, the real experimental folks, the art on the cutting edge more than a passing glance. That’s where the next generation of recycled work is going to come from, so you might as well recognize it now, while you’re looking at it with fresh eyes right?

As far as the whole painter vs. photographer thing, I’ve decided that so few photographers know so little about painters, that I’m going to start a new series. It’s going to be called “Painters Every Photographer Should Know” and it’s going to explore the world (and work) of some of my favorite painters. My hope is that there are some photographers out there who will see it and find inspiration, not at the shutters of their fellow photographers, but in the stroke of the brush instead. If we all started looking to painters for inspiration, the world might be a better place, right?

I hope you enjoy the new series, look for the posts to come soon.

Until next time…



  1. Janice / Dancing with Sunflowers
    November 4, 2009 / 4:09 pm

    Looking forward to seeing those posts, Carol. Re the copying thing, since the same photo will never be achieved twice (not even by the same person) and since technique and knowledge of the craft plays such a large part, it doesn't bother me the way it does you. There are certain photographers whose work inspires me, but what I'm trying to achieve is an understanding of how they achieve their look rather than exact copies of their work. Since a lot of them are Norwegian, photographing Norwegian scenes, that would be impossible anyway!

  2. Anonymous
    November 4, 2009 / 5:55 pm

    (I subscribed yesterday, after finding you via the NaBloPoMo Randomizer.)

    I think perhaps this issue is similar to that of many crafters (I'm a crocheter) when we follow or even adapt a pattern created by another. Others tell us, or we tell ourselves, that if we didn't do all the designing as well as the crafting, then we can't take credit.

    Art is a cumulative process, in which each of us builds on the teaching, inspiration, technique of others, and even on their art. Copyright is vital (I'm also a librarian), but that isn't the point here.

    Really looking forward to seeing these future posts.

  3. Carol
    November 4, 2009 / 5:56 pm

    Thanks, Postcards!

    Yes, there's a difference too between inspiration and copy. I've seen photographers inspired by the work of others-I think that's to be encouraged actually. Certainly, there's the case when somebody is trying to learn too, but then, I've seen the darker side also.

    There are a few photographers running around Austin, for example, who do little more than copy other photographers work. They then go to the same galleries as the original photographer, sort of "bad mouth" the "true" artist, and try to get their work shown at a reduced price. Eventually, it saddens me to say, they can build a career this way, though I have to wonder how really happy they are doing this.

    We all know it reflects a low self-esteem to do something like that and anybody who's any good in the art world will give their work one glance and say "that's derivative" (we all know they are copying) but yet they keep doing it.

    It gets harder too when you are a career photographer, to see you work ripped off like that and sold for sort of "bargain basement" prices. It strikes a nerve with me, because my work tends to be personal and so I feel like these people are ripping off a piece of my soul, not just my "work."

    But, enough rambling about that. Time to bring on the painters, right! Yay!

  4. Carol
    November 4, 2009 / 6:15 pm

    Hi Kaet,

    Thanks for stopping by and subscribing!

    Yes, I know what you mean about shared experiences. There's also a lot of great art that comes from a sense of community, which, as an artist, we lose if we go underground. I think though, especially in Austin, it's so competitive that it brings out the darker side of folks sometimes. I've seen some of that and really been put off by it.

    Of course, there's also a lot of great art being made here, and great communities too.

    I think the trick is to try to put your own spin on things. If you use your own touch to make something a bit more unique, a little more like you, a little personal, then it's not really a "copy" and it becomes an original (of sorts.) Doesn't matter what the medium is, "so called" crafts (I say "so called" because many crafts to me are just art with a different name) or what we label "traditional" art, all should have something personal from the artist. (It's what keeps us separate from "machine made" work, right?)

    But, yes, welcome and bring on the painters, I say!

  5. mythopolis
    November 4, 2009 / 8:23 pm

    A very interesting post. Art has a long history of imitation. Apprentices to the great masters in the Renaissance learned to imitate the work of their mentors. So, some of this has it's place. Eventually, they found their own palette. I learned a lot by copying drawings of others. Today, there is a lot of rip off work. Cheap attempts to create off-shoots of blockbuster films, is but one example. That is is not an attempt to learn and then find one's own way. That is exploitation. This happens all over the arts. There is this star mentality everywhere. We even want to dance with the stars. It is one thing to consider a work and try to imitate it, so as to advance an ultimate style of your own. It is another, to ride the coattails of fashion. Art seems similar to science in some respects. There are the various disciplines or various media. One works within an area, perhaps, imitating what's been done, but ultimately advancing it. So you have the radical emergence of Cubism, then post-Cubism, and neo -Cubism. You could become an Elvis impersonator and pick up spare change, or you could take what you learned and find your own voice. With regard to anything in any category that has already been done, there is more yet to do.

  6. KalaMarie
    November 5, 2009 / 1:58 am

    You know I admire so many photographers and at times I try to emulate their style a bit, but it pretty much ends there. Every once in a while, I'll see a photo and think "Why didn't I shoot that?". But I try to let it go at that, and just appreciate that another photographer did a splendid job. As time goes on, I look forward to learning a bit about painters from you!

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