aboutimage galleriescontactsubscribe

Original Sin

APRIL 9, 2008
I posted this yesterday, but then had second thoughts. I assumed that after hanging out there for most of the day with no comments, that maybe it's not possible to talk about the topic of originality of style in illustration and art without bringing up specific personalities.

I'm not interested in outing anybody here. I am interested in the idea of where we come from as artists, and where that stops and where we begin. It's a murky line for me, I'll admit. I think of it like accents: You grow up in a place, surrounded by certain people, chances are you'll kind of look and sound like people from that region.

Every industry has its ripe armpit. I’m sure that for accountants, it’s the second set of books that “nobody” keeps. For athletes, it’s performance enhancing drugs. For us artistes, it’s originality of style.

When illustrators get together, one of the favorite gossip subjects is who’s ripping who off.

In the best of worlds, it goes like this: There is a Great Artist. The Great Artists dies. Years later, a clever art student discovers the Great Artist’s work and, like a child with a Batman costume, tries it on and doesn’t take it off until he either outgrows it, or he’s shamed into wearing his own clothes by the taunts and jeers of his peers.

To continue the analogy, the problem arises when the student does not look to the graveyard of Great Artists Past, but to the coatroom, lockers, and lunchboxes of his own classmates. Taking the clothes, eating the lunch, and passing in the homework of your classmates might get you a gold star form an oblivious teacher, but once that recess bell rings, you can count on a very rough reception at the jungle gym.

Now, how many of us are Originals? That’s a rhetorical question. None of us are. But it’s clear to see who has made the effort to hammer out their own bivouac on the cliff, and who is getting a free piggyback ride. I freely admit that I picked my way to where I am by using one person’s foothold here, another person’s handhold there. If I’ve reached any summit, I had a looong line of sherpas who got there before I did. Same goes for the rest of us.

If you’re not familiar with my work or those I owe a great debt to, here are some names: Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Chris Payne, Gottfried Helnwein, Sebastian Kruger, Andrew Wyeth, Pat Oliphant, Vermeer, Caravaggio, and many many more. There are probably times when I cough up too big a chunk of one or more of these great artists work, but it’s never by design, and I’m always surprised by it, though I shouldn’t be. And when I do, I’m humbled by how far short I’ve fallen, and the idea of making my own way becomes that much more attractive.

We’re fortunate being artists. Each day we have another chance at expressing ourselves as ourselves. It seems like such a missed opportunity to use the short time we have here to sing someone else’s song, in someone else’s voice.