Saturday, October 22, 2011

ideas in a bottle

personal work/collection

work in progress for an upcoming major Ang INK exhibition

work in progress for a possible book project

I wonder why some people get upset when they find out their work has some similarity to other's work in terms of general or universally known ideas. Similarity in terms of form and rendering - or artistic concept (borrowed term) is another story. As far as I know, ideas can never be copyrighted, but the expression of ideas are. I think there's no such thing as original idea anymore since almost everything has been done by artists. New techniques and media may come, but the same idea has been recycled over and over again: image making. For example, using crown as a symbol for a specific concept like "royalty" and "power" is obviously not groundbreaking anymore and no one can claim they conceived the idea. It is the how and when the concept of crown are visually rendered or executed that makes it refreshing. 

No specific inventor claimed the classical techniques of pencil sketching, stenciling, crosshatching, rubber cut, or perhaps 3D rendering, digital animation etc. Anyone can learn such processes and adapt them into new and exciting applications. Are these ideas of new and exciting application of conventional techniques copyrightable? I don't think so, but their creative output is. 

If a concept calls for "a long wall full of posters", you can have a million creative ways of visualizing artistic concept on paper. By artistic concept, I mean the way you use line, form, color, or texture to create a visual composition. For example, how you see and draw human figures: are they elongated or rounded? tall or skewed? When two artists create similar compositions, the coincidence of thinking the same color, same type of fonts, same location, same wordings, is one in a million. That chance is only either because of mere fate or, simply copying. If the chance occurs repeatedly, then obviously it is not in-good-faith fate.

Is style an artistic concept then? I guess so. If style is a concept, then it is not copyrightable: probably. No one can also claim ownership of a specific style because style is a blurry, often subjective, discussion. It is very difficult to prove who started which and when: the more famous creator of the style often receives the impression or "halo-effect" of being the original, while the unheard-of other creator automatically labelled as copycat, even if this unpopular guy's intentions or work is authentic. This is probably the reason why only the tangible expression of ideas are protected. However, your personal rendition, or your personal vision of perceiving things about life is what transforms old or simple artistic ideas into authentic, sincere, and monumental. 

And if your personal vision is imitated, that's something you should really be concerned about.