As part of my art world domination plan (!) I've been joining art websites such as The Artists Web (who are hosting my own website) and Total Art Soul. All these sites have forums for members to post questions, get and give advice and just get to know other like-minded people. Yesterday I joined a debate on Total Art Soul with regard to the moral and legal implications of using someone else's photo as inspiration for a painting/drawing.
There are a whole host of things to consider when using a photograph as the basis of a picture, not least is the argument from some art purists who look down their noses at those of us who work from photos and are of the opinion that it makes us somehow less of an artist because we don't actually draw from life.
I don't know about any other artists out there but I don't have the a) confidence to paint or draw in public or b) the time to actually do a portrait of a life model - bearing in mind I still have to work for a living and that the last commissioned portrait I did took me over 18 hours to complete - it just isn't a realistic proposition for me. Also, given the less than clement year round weather in Northern Ireland, for me to try and paint en plein air (as they say in France) my paints would be washed away by rain before they even got a chance to dry on the paper! So no, I don't subscribe to the school of thought that you must actually be there to paint the scene - that's what digital photography was invented for!
Which leads me on to the next dilemma - what if, like me, you are photographically challenged (I don't mean unphotogenic although I am guilty of that too!) I am just not very good at taking photos but, luckily for me, S is. From a holiday snapshot point of view, I never really saw the point of a photograph without someone in it. Now however, I am eternally grateful that S has taken so many of these photographic scenes as it means I have a huge source of reference material and I don't need to worry about copyright!
This is a photo he took of the walled garden at Bangor Castle and my sketch of it which I've used for the front cover of my Arthouse Co-op Sketchbook 2011 project.
Is the painting less mine just because I didn't actually take the photo - no I don't think so. A good photographer can capture a great scene and that in itself is a work of art. Likewise, a good artist can paint a scene, whether from life or from a photo and put their own stamp on it - as Simon Cowell would say they take the scene and they make it their own (a phrase I hate but that actually sums up what I mean in this case!)
Now, as to the issue of whether it is ever okay to use someone else's photograph to paint from, there are different views on this, aside from the whole copyright issue. Personally, I would always ask someone's permission if I wanted to use an image of theirs as inspiration for artwork of mine.
Because I worry about everything I then worried about drawing famous faces - is their image copyrighted? Yes, pretty much. I found out that, even though Marilyn Monroe has long since shuffled off this mortal coil, the rights to her name and image belong to CMG. This concerned me, as I have her on my blog and website banner and not wanting to be on the receiving end of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, I emailed CMG and asked was it okay to keep the illustration on as a sample of my work and they said yes! Phew.
During my research I also found a wonderful website called Paint My Photo where photographers post photos that they allow artists to paint from. This is a great website and one I will be frequenting when I need inspiration without the worry of legalities! I have already found a few cityscapes on there of places I haven't been to which will be great as inspiration for the sketchbook project. There is even a challenge where artists are invited to paint a chosen photo each month. This month it's this photo by Rodney Campbell, a member of Paint My Photo (who did give kindly me permission to put this photo on my blog!)
The upshot is, as far as using someone else's photographs are concerned - yes I will no doubt still do so in the future as professional photographers will probably travel to amazing places I may never be lucky enough to get to and they are always going to take a better photograph than I could, but I will always ask their permission first. I would just always prefer to stay on the right side of the law and not step on anyone's toes into the bargain. And, I don't think I am not a 'real' artist because I work from photos (but then I am going to say that anyway!)
It would be interesting to hear other opinion's on this as it seems to be a real bone of contention amonst other artists on various websites I looked at. Any thoughts?