Blog / 2011 / Learning from Copying
November 13, 2011
We learn by copying.
Babies learn to speak by making noises to imitate the people who surround them. Then, slowly but surely, they begin to understand meaning and form words, all by observing and reproducing what’s going on around them.
The same is true of learning to make art.
When I was fourteen years old, I copied Van Gogh’s famous painting, but the learning didn’t stop there. Even today, I regularly quote from other artists’ work, stealing whatever I need to develop my own work.
Recently, I posted this drawing online along with a video of the process of creating this drawing.
A few months later James sent me his version of the drawing and asked me for pointers on his work.
Back in 2008, I painted a portrait of a Russian-American man for Apple Pie.
This detail image came to the attention of Jade.
She presented me with her version of my painting and asked for my advice.
Both Jade and James are fifteen. They’re trying to figure out what all is involved in being an artist, and I am happy to help. In part, I am willing to answer questions because being accessible in this way is important to me, but, in Jade’s and James’ cases, there was something more at work too. They were asking me for a favor, but not before first offering me an amazing gift: an opportunity to learn about my work.
Because that’s just it. Seeing my own work copied is not only a delight, it’s also extremely valuable to me as an artist. It allows me to see how my work is perceived by someone else. I get to see what jumps out at people about my art—what it is that defines my work according to someone else. And when the piece isn’t simply copied but is remixed as in the image in this post, I get to learn about the meaning of my work too.
I guess what I mean to say is that we learn by copying other people but also from copying—from other people copying us. James and Jade gave me a lesson in exchange for a lesson, and that’s pretty cool of them.
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