Copying isn’t bad; it depends on how and why you do it. I recommend you try copying – and be clear about why you’re doing it. Though I rarely share these kinds of studies with anyone, I make them frequently – and I learn a lot.
I’m not fond of phrases like, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” (That phrase itself has a history that borders on theft. Read it here.) They can be interpreted as a legitimization of plagiarism, as long as your sources are unknown or you hide them well. A lot is lost when this happens; the original author goes unfairly unappreciated; the plagiarist tragically passes up the opportunity to find something of their own; readers are deceived; we all lose. The biggest trouble with phrases like this is that so many fail to go further after pronouncing them.
The best thing about phrases like this is that they memorably raise an important set of questions about the wide variety of purposes for copying: forgeries rob money (except the ones museums and collectors commission as insurance policies for exhibition); plagiarism robs intellectual property and content; studies educate the development of artists; appropriation references culturally important touchstones (best done with attribution like a quote); working in the manner of someone can be both a sign of respect (homage) and a way of fanning those flames of inspiration; and making new authentic work after being inspired by another strikes new sparks carrying the torch further.
Follow phrases like these with a rich conversation about the possibilities and you will be richly rewarded every time.
Here are a few resources that will help enliven your future discussions.
Things get really gray with appropriation.
Forgery has a fascinating history.
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