Sunday, March 2, 2008

Drawing The Line

Teddy bears got their name because they happened to debut at a time when Teddy Roosevelt drew the line over something he considered unethical. Clifford Berryman decided to do a political cartoon about it and the rest as they say, is history. Unfortunately not everyone has the same code of ethics Teddy Roosevelt had.

A couple nights ago I was strolling down a virtual avenue looking for something and came across something else entirely. You know how that is right? It's times like that when we see synchronicity at play yet again. So anyway, I had run across some bears made by an artist that has a VERY unique and charming style. But I was puzzled over why she was selling in a particular venue that I wouldn't think she would be interested in using. AND I wondered why she had slightly changed the name of her company...until I realized...she hadn't!

Someone had copied her work all the way from the pattern down to costuming, picture style and name of her company! The kicker is this person had gone on to extol about how it had taken them a really long time to develop this style! I nearly choked. Now I know they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if that's true...why aren't we ever flattered when someone does it to us? That can sometimes be a cultural reaction I guess. In America we value uniqueness and originality. In some countries it's not only acceptable, but valued and respected to copy each others work in an attempt to keep that style alive.

This has been an issue in the bear world for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of time thinking about it yesterday while I was pulling weeds in my garden. I've been part of this business long enough to see that sometimes people can come to the same place at the same time with a similar style that has nothing to do with each other. Often what we make has a lot to do with what's popular in society at any given time. We don't even realize it's what influences us.

I remember years ago a lot of people suddenly making mermaid bears, myself included. They were all different, but the person who managed to get her mermaid bear in print first accused everyone else of copying her. Of course that wasn't true because when I made mine I hadn't even seen hers yet. I realized the thing that had influenced us all was the release of Disney's movie; "The Little Mermaid." I loved that movie and I didn't even realize it had inserted itself in my brain so deeply that I had to translate my love for it into my work. Right now the popular things are altered art and cute Japanese chibi style. We are seeing a lot of that creeping into the work of bear artists. I've been wanting to try my own hand at a little of that.

The other thing that influences artists of any kind, are each other. Someone will create a fun technique and so many people want to apply it to their own work that it gets lost as to who originally came up with it. Other times we simply have similar personalities and end up making the same type of look because of it. I have seen features of people's work that I admired, translated my own way and incorporated it into my work. But there is the trick. Where do we draw the line from inspiration into remastering? Some people in other areas of the art world consider remastering it's own art. In a way it is, I couldn't recreate the Mona Lisa and if someone can, that is pretty amazing!

If you really think about it there are only so many ways to make a bear. We all are in fact plagiarizing the idea of Margaret Steiff. Most artists start out copying a bear style from a time period, manufacturer or pattern book/class from an artist and then we work out our own from there. I have been wanting to make a 50's style rabbit this week and have been working on a pattern for it. Right now I can think of 5 other artists who are doing the same, and they were all influenced by a manufactured original half a century ago. My motive for wanting it is a love of vintage style and some cute little Easter boxes I came across that I felt that type of bunny would be perfect for. I am drawing my own pattern from scratch to do so, but will it look like another artist or manufacturer when I am done? Probably, to a degree. I have made thousands of bears over the years in that classic german style and shape, then I add my own twist. But did I sit down and measure out and copy one bear in particular in order to re-create that exact bear? No! As time progresses I like to change things up, so I shorten or lengthen snouts, limbs and ears, but ultimately I was still influenced by the work of others and what is going on around me in society. The question remains, is that wrong? I think sometimes it's a matter of giving credit where credit is due. I will gladly step up and tell you what my influences are and not claim something as my own original concept if it's not. Art is subjective, so are the answers to what constitutes artistic influence versus a knock off. Everyone is going to have a different answer.

I would be lying if I said I had never been tempted to re-create someone's bear because I wanted one from them and either couldn't afford one or they didn't make enough for me to manage to get one. I think many of us are tempted to do that at some point whether we own up to it or not. I can assure you however, that when push comes to shove, I have never done it. I end up just waiting and getting one from the person who designed it or I let it go because I know that mine will never be like theirs anyway. But when you do make an exact replica and claim it as your own, as in the case of what I found the other night...that's where I draw the line.

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