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The unethical side of being inspired: is retracing wrong?

There is little way to create if you’re not getting inspired by some source or another. But what is considered ‘getting inspired?’ Some artists make the mistake of unethically retracing the work of well-known and lesser-known artists as a way to grow in their techniques and vision. How wrong could this be and what is the right path to growing as an artist?

What does retracing mean and is it wrong?

Retracing is when an artist retraces the design, drawing, or the entirety of a painting that is done by someone else. There are many practices that are somewhat similar to retracing, which in fact aren’t unethical. For example, in many grape and paint events, artists redraw and revive a painting done by some of history’s greatest artists. This is actually a great way of growing and adopting the vision of an artist that inspires you.

However, if you find yourself copying (such an ugly word) a painting line by line and imitating it’s methods stroke by stroke just to claim it as a new work under your own name, that’s quite unethical. There are levels to retracing, and you should fall on the lighter end of the spectrum where you use another artist’s art as a stimulator for your creations.

Can I possibly retrace unintentionally?

Definitely. There are many occurrences where an artist unconsciously retraces another artwork to the point where it’s impossible to miss. This happens when you secure a deep connection with an artist or collection, and you have the colors, style, and theme in your unconscious creative space.

A way to escape that is to be aware of what resources fuel your creativity. In other terms, more inspiration. It’s easy to get lost in your imagination and mix up some of your ideas with the works of others.

Why do ethics matter in the field of arts?

It may not be a constant topic of discussion, but ethics shape our lives more boldly than we think. It’s crucial to have fulfilling experiences as an artist, instead of easy and fast ways that can get you further in this field. There are so many rewarding ways you can grow in your own steps. This means seeing more but connecting less of your eyesight to your brushstrokes. It can be difficult at first, but you will reach a certain point in your artistic career where you’ll be proud of being ethical in your approach to getting inspired.

How can I tell the difference between retracing and reviving practically?

To examine the difference, I’ve come up with a real example of where you should draw the line between the ethical and unethical sides of revival.

Holly Warburton, Evening Sketch.

I was really inspired by Holly Warburton’s Evening Sketch. I chose to illustrate something that reminded me of the hem of the woman’s dress/skirt. Here’s how it turned out:

The Landing Tree, Multimedia, 2020.

While I was illustrating this piece, I had Audrey Hepburn in mind too. But I was mostly focused on my own idea for a short story, and what the other objects in the scenery would be doing for the whole illustration.

It’s quite obvious that these two paintings look nothing alike. There may be similar colors, textures, and brushstrokes in two paintings that are linked by inspiration, but they aren’t usually identical. This is a classic example of how I choose to revive, cautiously staying away from stealing someone else’s style.

What do you think of getting inspiration and the ethical consequences of it?

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