There has been a recent discussion on the Quiltart list about creating artwork from photos, both one's own and photos from other people. What started this discussion were some of the prizewinners from this year's Houston Quilt Show
that were obviously copied from photos. This piece
was taken very directly from Dorothea Lange's photo of the migrant mother, from the dustbowl era. The quilt artist did not violate any copyright since the photo is in the public domain, but nevertheless, many of us were surprised that it was awarded a prize in a category for original
artwork. Similarly, this piece
is a very faithful copy of a painting. The quilt artist obtained permission from the painter to copy the painting. Googling found the original painting and it is a detail for detail copy. In our online discussion no one is questioning the artists' legal rights to use other artists' works as their source material, but many, including myself, are disappointed that these copies were first, accepted in categories that clearly called for original
work and second, that they won awards.
Artists may, of course, do whatever the law allows them to do in regards to where they find their images, but one has to wonder why one artist chooses to copy the work of another. (and that includes someone else's photo) I find it hard to think I would get a lot of satisfaction out of that kind of work. Yes, copying of master works is a popular exercise for art students, but it is understood that this is an exercise and not your personal work.
So--what about photos? Working with photos is common in the art quilt world. Some quilt artists actually print a photo on fabric and then stitch right over it. Some painstakingly copy a beautiful photo, detail by detail. Some use a photo as a starting point and abstract and rethink the composition. For me, I use my own photos, never anyone else's, and sometimes I follow the composition fairly closely and sometimes I use only the parts I want to emphasize and that work as part of my own vision. Here are a couple of recent works, drawn from photos taken on our Spain trip.
This one is a fairly straightforward interpretation of the photo I took on the steps of the Prado.
The second is this small piece, depicting pomegranates, as they grow on a tree.
An abstracted image, using this photo of a pomegranate tree I took at the Alhambra as reference.
Would I try to render a photograph as realistically as possible in fabric? No. I don't see the point in that. That image already exists as a photograph and unless I can bring something new and personal to it I don't know why I would want to simply copy it. The bird, above, is close, I know, but I still feel I have brought something new, at least to me, to it. Or maybe not.
As far as the discussion about the unoriginal/original quilt pieces in Houston, there was no agreement. Some folks think the fact that they were so skillfully
copied is reason enough to give them a prize! Others of us are shaking our heads and thinking this represents a low point in any efforts to bring attention and respect to our art form. It is always, I guess, in any medium, the case that hobbyists and serious artists mingle and no one, not even the artists, knows which is which until these kinds of discussions come up. I once saw an awfully cleverly reproduced painting of the Last Supper at the State Fair. It had a blue ribbon on it. Sigh....