Tips to Avoid Art Plagiarism toward Becoming a Better Art Student

Sometimes it seems that everything outstanding has been already created. We equally admire masterpieces of ancient artists and modernists, wondering if it is even possible to come up with something equally valuable in our “post-” era.

While every professor uses an online plagiarism checker to check for plagiarism any essay submitted, an art student can get a tempting idea to use a little known artwork instead of creating something new. There doesn’t seem to be any free plagiarism checker, let alone online plagiarism checker for art objects, right?

Under such circumstances, the issue of plagiarism becomes even more urgent than before. But while it is clear that your works shouldn’t be copied from existing art pieces, good students need and should use elements of outstanding works. This “creativity vs copyright” struggle gets quite puzzling. So where’s the line between originality and plagiarism, and how to avoid the latter?

Stealing vs Borrowing

It is important to study famous artists by emulating their styles and techniques. This becomes a solid background for your artistic style and defines it. Plagiarism is more straightforward – it is “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person,” as explained in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. To put it simply, plagiarism is stealing, while borrowing makes you a follower.

There are two types of plagiarism in art:

  • art piece theft – using existing artwork and presenting it as your own without consent or credit to a source;
  • art style theft – duplicating an original artwork without or with insignificant changes.

Borrowing, in its turn, can take many forms – from stylization to allusion or simple inspiration that can be traced in minor details or moods.

How to Become a Better Art Student?

Austin Kleon, a New York Times bestselling author, encourages to “steal like an artist.” By “stealing,” however, he introduces a bit different concept. Instead of using someone else’s works or ideas, he advises collecting those ideas: to learn, discover, note everything interesting. Accumulating someone’s ideas and experiences is key to becoming a better artist. The tips explained below will help you with this.

Tip #1. Feel inspired. Spend time watching art pieces you like. Start working while you are still under the impression of what you’ve experienced. Whether you like Monet or Jasper Jones, it is okay to use similar techniques. In the end, early works are more likely to remind famous masterpieces because an artist is learning and searching for a unique style.

Tip #2. Change an artwork. Digital and graphic artists like to use recognizable characters or symbols (that aren’t protected by copyright) and put them into different environments and circumstances. This is why pop art stylization of Mona Lisa is not plagiarism in art.

Tip #3. Transform a work. There are many ways to do it:

  • choose a work to use as a basis, add new elements to change it;
  • do the opposite – erase something from an original work;
  • globalize an unknown work by reconsidering it and putting into a new context;
  • reanimate something forgotten, reconstruct it in a modern way;
  • go online – check out the latest trends and use some ideas.

You can come up with your own techniques and ideas for using the products of mass culture and acclaimed masterpieces as a piece of an emerging unique puzzle, just start to do it.

Tip #4. Recompile. Ask yourself a “What if…?” question before you start to work.

  • What if an artist decided to paint this scene under a moonlight?
  • What if he changed green to blue?
  • What if he created this 300 years later?

Find a likely answer, and based on it, recompile the elements in a different way.

Tip #5. Mix. Use different sources and styles for inspiration. Take something from each, and you’ll get an original and self-sufficient remix.

Tip #6. Cite. If you need to use an image from pop culture or any other artwork, check if you are allowed to do it. If it is protected by copyright, make a legal request, and use it only if it is approved.

What If I Get Away With It?

Some students are certain that if they find a little know work and plagiarize it, no one will find out. You may be surprised, but your fellow students, professors, employers, and especially critics are well-educated people as well. So most likely, you won’t get away with plagiarizing. And is the risk worth taking?

The most common consequences of art plagiarism are lawsuits followed by press coverages, official statements and apologies, monetary compensations, and damage to your reputation. It happens in the environment that encourages new things and ideas, where plagiarism is not that difficult to avoid. Good students always use the heritage left by previous generations of artists, they just do it smartly.


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