There is Nothing New Under the Sun
“Good artists copy, great artists steal” Pablo Picasso
There is nothing new under the sun. Everything is borrowed in some shape or form.
The word pastiche is often misunderstood and confused with the idea of parody. However, a parody mocks another artists work, whereas a pastiche is actually a homage to the artist’s style or technique.
From an Italian word pasticcio, which is a type of pie with mixed fillings, pastiche has been used for centuries and has been used by some of the most famous artists in history. Gaugin’s island art is imitating the style of native art, Rene Magritte imitated the commercial style of advertising and, in turn, his art was later used for advertising.
In fact, most artists, at, at least, one stage of their career, will imitate another’s style, if just to improve their own techniques.
I used to think there was something slightly unethical about copying another artist’s work, but why should there be? it is through copying that we learn, when we are children. There is no reason why this should not continue as we grow up.
And, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, no artist will be offended by your ‘borrowing’ their image. Pastiches are made from great love of another artist’s work. We all want to see more of what we love in the world, and by copying what we love, as artists, we ensure that will be the case.
These days, there is a lot of pressure on artists to produce work that is somehow original and unique. And yet, we are all inspired by others in what we do.
Be it art, or music, writing or filmmaking, whichever field you are in, there will be others who do what you do, who have gone before, and who have done what you are doing so much better. In fact, so much better are they at what you want to do, that you can only copy and hope that someday you may match that greatness in some small way.
That is how it starts for everyone, at first. When we are children, or when we grow older. We all want to be able to write like Dickens or paint like Van Gogh, or… [insert favourite artist here].
Magritte the great copyist
One of my earliest inspirations was Rene Magritte. His love of mystery and the mysterious matched my own, in copying his work, I found my mind conjuring new surreal scenes. For about two years at art school I lived and breathed surrealism. I produced a booklet with a short story I wrote by the technique of automatic writing and illustrated it with copies of Magritte’s paintings (as well as one or two of my own).
I could write like a surrealist and paint like one. However, despite that, I was not a surrealist. It was only one step in My Artistic Journey as an illustrator.
Magritte famously made copies of his paintings, and several copies exist of many of his works.
In fact, the artist played with imitation and even forgery and was tempted to copy a Belgian bank note. An
“100 Francs banknote with Léopold I’s head replaced by that of Magritte. The title that appeared below this, Les Travaux Forcés, was taken from the warning printed on Belgian banknotes: ‘La loi punit le contrefacteur des travaux forcés’ ('the law punishes the counterfeiter'). This photomontage was clearly attributed to Magritte.” (Allmer 2007)
This led to complications with the police and it was rumoured that Magritte had actually counterfeited real money at one time.
Ironically, “in 1998… a new, and real, Belgian banknote came into circulation. It was a 500 Francs banknote with Magritte’s head on the front.” (Allmer 2007)
Magritte also painted a trompe l’oeil Belgian bank note, the only difference being that in the painting Leopold I was smoking a pipe.
Here, Magritte may be imitating two forms of representational currency, art as well as money. It seems to be a copy (forgery) not only of money (a 500 Francs note) but also of art, particularly the work of nineteenth-century American trompe l’oeil artist John Haberle’s ‘One Dollar Bill’ (which Magritte was likely familiar with). This was also a painting of a bank note.
By depicting bank note, a representation of value, or rather the promise to pay that value ‘to the bearer,’ Magritte is pointing out the insubstantial quality of money (it is just a promise) and subverting the everyday and playing with the idea of what is real.
In fact, the secret of the bank is that money does not really exist. Why can we not all pay our way with play money, because now that is all we do; using slips of paper with no real value.
By the very act of painting, artists produce a simulacrum of reality which is, in itself, two removes from reality. Which Magritte demonstrates in his famous painting ‘Treachery of Images’