Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is plagarism a form of flattery?

It has been said that “Plagiarism is the Highest Form of Flattery.” I suppose in the sense that someone has respected my work sufficiently to duplicate it, then, perhaps, flattery is warranted. If, however, that person has financially gained from my artistic vision, then I’m not so sure flattery is the best choice of word.

Let’s see if I can put this in context.

I moved to our new home in the mid-1990’s. Not long after that, while I was driving by a small community art gallery, I noticed a sign had been made using an image of mine that had received wide commercial distribution across Atlantic Canada. I immediately got my knickers in a twist and waltzed into the gallery to confront management about this blatant rip off.

The staff member was a lady, and I’m guessing, who was probably in her early 70’s. She was busy with a customer so I just browsed. Most of the paintings were small canvases of very amateurish quality and quite literal in their presentation. Another painting jumped out at me and I immediately identified a reproduction of a Sherman Hines photo that was originally captured in Grand Manan, New Brunswick.

The elderly ladies voice broke my bewilderment: “Can I help you sir.” Without thinking I commented “I believe I recognize this work as a scene from Grand Manan.” The lady was so pleased that I identified the location because she was the artist. She then went into great detail how she painted the scene from a picture she removed from a calendar, and how it was also a favourite of her painting club, too.

The painter’s club, it seems, was a local group of retired folks who gathered to paint as a form of socialization. A local business has donated the space so they could improve the streetscape in our small village by having a store front for them to show and sell their efforts. To top matters off, most of the proceeds were donated back to the community through the various charitable service groups.

We had a great chat for a few minutes, and I learned a lot about a community I have really come to enjoy and have called home since.

“No, ma’am, I don’t think I will buy the piece but thank you for the chat and opportunity to learn more about your club.” It was, truly, a really humbling experience and I left without saying a word. It is now about 15 years later and I still see that sign on at least a weekly basis. I am flattered in this case.

Move ahead to just yesterday. I am sitting in the main lobby of a resort in the Caribbean waiting for the bus to take our family to the airport and return flight home. There on the wall is what I believe to be a copy of a photograph I have placed with a stock agency.

Should I be humbled, flattered, or angry? Is there a difference in the two forms of uses?

           copy painting in resort lobby  
                original photograph