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If a person creates something derivative without knowing it’s derivative is it derivative?

I remember a story years ago about a very young artist that was on the verge of creating a very large body of work. Her father was a painter and he was helping her market what he thought was work of a child prodigy.

It’s true—her art was technically advanced for a seven year old but after seeing her images, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of familiarity. I didn’t quite get it at the time—as the media was jumping all over the story—saying things like the next Picasso. As the story dwindled over the next couple years—I would hear people refer to other children, even animals as prodigious artists.


It was becoming annoying as people would refer to good abstract art as something their child could do.

In the 80’s, the internet didn’t exist, so media was T.V. newspapers and radio. I was in the middle of my B.F.A. as painter and was overwhelmed with research papers and theory classes—when I discovered a book , full of large coloured plates of van Gogh’s paintings and drawings—a revelation, began to unravel that earlier story of the child prodigy. As it turns out—that child had learned very skillfully to copy Van Gogh’s images—her father was feeding her the material and helping her to add her own content, all in Van Gogh’s style.

I am not naive to think that we all beg, borrow and steal on occasion, to gain inspiration. tempered, known, use of imagery though, is about integrity. Artist’s stay current by being in constant flux with the world via the internet, which allows us the privilege of seeing other artist’s work and the natural wonders of the world when ever we want, from where ever we are.

Art has never been so accessible!

Back to the question—If a person creates something derivative without knowing it’s derivative is it derivative?

I don’t bloody know but what I do know—when it comes time to make art, I pay close attention to my intuition and if an alarm goes off, I assess what I am doing and where it came from.

I try to be open about my work and I am aware of the potential derivative nature of any piece I produce—that being said, nobodies perfect and when it comes to my art—I lead with integrity.

I am working on a piece at this very moment called “Popular Culture”— it could be the beginning of a new series of paintings. If pursued as a series, it will be a collection of mainstream and not so mainstream images used in various contexts.

Derivative Painters