Is Inspiration Plagiarism?

Hello wonderful human beings, today I am talking about plagiarism. I was talking to some friends, a couple of weeks ago, about plagiarism and inspiration in the art community. 

Sometimes it might be hard to be “original” when you feel like everything has been done before. If you are a creator, you could also be wondering “how do I protect my art/ideas?” or “how do I make sure I am not plagiarizing?”

Let’s begin with some definitions. 

What is plagiarism? 

According to the Bowdoin University there are four types of plagiarism 

  1. Direct plagiarism: “Direct plagiarism is the word-for-word transcription of a section of someone else’s work, without attribution and without quotation marks.”
  2. Self-plagiarism: “Self-plagiarism occurs when a student submits his or her own previous work, or mixes parts of previous works, without permission from all professors involved. For example, it would be unacceptable to incorporate part of a term paper you wrote in high school into a paper assigned in a college course. Self-plagiarism also applies to submitting the same piece of work for assignments in different classes without previous permission from both professors.”
  3. Mosaic plagiarism (aka paraphrasing):  Mosaic Plagiarism occurs when a student borrows phrases from a source without using quotation marks or finds synonyms for the author’s language while keeping to the same general structure and meaning of the original.
  4. Accidental plagiarism: Accidental plagiarism occurs when a person neglects to cite their sources, or misquotes their sources, or unintentionally paraphrases a source by using similar words, groups of words, and/or sentence structure without attribution.

You might have noticed that those definitions are about written work, and more specifically about assignments in school, however I do believe we could extrapolate from that talk about other form of art. For this post I will refer to art as painting/drawing/craft making, which is what I do when I am not writing. 

I also know there is a difference between personal use and commercial use. So, for this post I will mostly be referring to commercial use, which means you sell the product you are creating. Versus personal use, which means you create it just for yourself. 

Another thing that has to be mention is plagiarism in re-creation. So, to re-create someone else’s work is to copy their work but doing it yourself. To re-create someone’s work, is also known as appropriation. This is always plagiarism, unless you specifically mention who’s work you are copying. Even when you are putting your own spin on the art, you should always mention who had the original idea. Making an exact copy of some’s work and selling it, is often frown upon, even if you credit the original artist because it isn’t fair to make money out someone else’s idea when they aren’t getting anything out of it. Now, when you recreate someone’s work and put your own spin on it, you still have to credit the artist, and it is acceptable for commercial use if it is different enough. I personally don’t see it very often, I have only ever seen re-created work being sold when the original artist is deceased, so thing about replicas of famous paintings, or “modern approaches” to classic paintings.

An example I have of this, is my appropriation of Juan Gris’ still life painting “Naturaleza muerta con mantel a cuadros.” Even if this painter has passed away, and my re-creation will never be for sale, when I shared it on social media, I made sure to credit the original artist. It takes no time to do so, and it would otherwise be plagiarism. 

So, you might now be asking yourself, what about inspiration? Sometimes you see someone’s art, and it inspires you. It is not a copy of their work, but it might have elements from their work.  When it comes to inspiration, you can mention who inspired you, but you don’t have to. 

The words “re-creation/appropriation” and “inspiration” are not interchangeable; you can’t say “I was inspired by this person” when you are copying their work. Yes, even when you give it your own spin. An example of inspiration is if you see someone who painted flowers, so you get inspired to paint your own flowers. They have nothing to do with each other, but the idea of painting flowers might not have immediately come to you if you hadn’t seen that person doing flowers. Another example is, I saw someone who was using dried flowers incorporated in a painting, so I tried dried flowers in my own art. It isn’t a copy of their painting, but I am using the same technique. The same would go for a style. Though, I do have to mention that for the most part, each person develops their own style, but it can incorporate elements of other people’s styles. With this in mind, you might have heard the term “copy-cat” which in general terms (and my understanding) is doing your own art, but in someone else’s exact style. 

The thing to take away from this: when you copy someone’s work, give them credit. Plagiarism isn’t just ethically wrong; it is also illegal. Something else to remember is the importance of authenticity, you want to be your own–unique–artist. A professor once told me “there is a different between an artist and artisan; it is all about the ability to create unique art.” 

I hope you have found this useful, be a good and awesome artist. Until next week, don’t forget to be kind, do something that makes you happy and spread love all around you. 

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