I don’t read other people’s blogs unless I’m preparing to interview them. I used to read blogs–all kinds of fabulous blogs with amazing photos and great ideas for everything from music to check out to book to put on the reading list to tutorials showing how to sculpt tiny hands. But I don’t do that any more, and I don’t “like” stuff on Facebook or hunt for things to pin on Pinterest (I re-pin stuff sometimes). I learned the hard way years ago that there are people who are just maybe a tiny bit too tightly wound when it comes to protecting the things they put out there via the web, and I don’t want to play with them. Someone accused me (not to me; a mutual acquaintance pointed it out to me) of stealing an idea for a blog post, never mind that there’s no copyright on ideas and never mind that it’s something I’d written about in the past. Never mind all that: what I learned is that there are supposedly creative people who spend way, way less time creating than they do patrolling Facebook and their blog and Pinterest and YouTube and websites, looking for signs that someone is taking their stuff. They check the stats on their blogs to see who’s visited and then go check to see what those visitors are saying. They check people’s uploaded photos on Facebook and Pinterest to make sure no one has copied anything they’ve created. They start their mornings not with painting or sculpting but with checking online to see if all their stuff is safe.
Now, we all know that copyright violations are a big deal. Having images of your work reproduced by someone else is horrible—as Kim explained here. When your art is your livelihood, having someone rip it off and use it as their own can be devastating, indeed. I interviewed an artist once whose work was copied so thoroughly that he changed everything, from the medium he used to the style of work he created (it turned out to be a very good—and lucrative— change, but it was still horrible at the time). So I’m not saying that having your stuff taken and used isn’t a big deal. What I’m suggesting is that some of us—maybe kind of a lot of us—have gotten so taken up with trying to protect what we’ve created that it’s interfering with our ability to create anything new. The most successful (in whatever way you define that) artists I’ve talked to over the years have all been ripped off at some point. What almost all of them tell me is that while it’s upsetting, to say the least, they don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it happening again. How is that possible, when this is what they do for a living? Because by the time someone else has figured out how to copy what they created, they’ve already moved on. They’re not making the same thing they were last year, and they’re not covering the same topics they were mulling over in the spring. They’re pursuing new ideas, making new stuff, trying out new media and techniques and colors.
I’m not advocating that we ignore people who steal from us, not at all. We need to take precautions, sure. But if we’re spending hours a day trawling the web looking for people whose work or photos or blog posts seem maybe a little too much like something we’ve done, what are we actually doing? We’re living our lives from a place of fear—fear of being copied or being ripped off or just not getting enough attention—instead of from a place of creativity. Sooner or later it’s going to make us tight and bitter and suspicious of pretty much everyone and everything, and we’re not going to have much left to put into the work we should be doing.
For more about lightening up and keeping creativity at the forefront, check out The Declaration of You! by Jessica Swift and Michelle Ward.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS