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In Art, Imitation is…Education?

In Art, Imitation is...Education? (Facebook title image)

While I was pulling together projects for an upcoming post, I came across some vehement objections to art imitation projects.  Some writers’ objections revolved around the idea of “imitation.” These writers expressed concern that if imitation is taking place, or instructions are being given, the ability of a child to explore is stifled.  Others expressed concern about the idea of a particular end result being held up as an example, asserting that this downplays the process and makes it all about the product.

These objections have some validity  — if we only ever imitate or only ever focus on a particular end product, that can be smothering to one’s sense of creativity.  But there’s value to this method, too.

Imitation Breeds Confidence

In many disciplines, we learn through imitation.  We model great work — great writing, great music, etc. — and in the process we internalize patterns we’re later able to use independently.  (Even the basics of language are acquired this way.  Small children learn the sentence structure of their native language by copying what adults and older children do.)

Moreover, completely open-ended exploration can be overwhelming for some people.  They may not have any ideas or might not know where to start. Imitation can provide a starting point.

There are several different ways existing art can be used as “prompts” for art projects, in order to inspire creativity, not stifle it.

Imitation, Limitation, Inspiration

Imitation of a style can give some basic direction.  If you don’t know where to start at all (have no immediate ideas) or want to try something new, imitating a particular style can provide just enough direction to keep you from staring aimlessly at a blank sheet of paper.

Some artists might not need this.  They may confidently approach a blank sheet of paper, full of ideas.  But some might not come up with ideas so easily, or might freeze up at the sight of an empty page.  For them, this imitation of style can help them get “unstuck” and get started.

Limitation can foster creativity.  The challenge of working within a given set of boundaries can encourage creativity (rather than stifle it) by forcing the artist to approach the page from a perspective he might not otherwise have thought of.  This is the same principle at work when authors use story prompts to practice from, or when actors practice improvisation.

The inspiration of a given work as an example can encourage a whole different kind of remixing and creativity as you put your own spin on it.  Maybe you want to recreate Starry Night with watercolors and add glitter.  Or perhaps replace the skyline with a more familiar, modern one.  Change up the colors and make it a Cloudy Day instead.  These are just a few examples of making art that is about the “end product,” but in a loose, flexible way.

Balance

The key to doing this well is something I talk about a lot around here: balance.

Some art is about the end product; some is about the process.

Some art is for a particular purpose and budding artists need the discipline to work within those parameters.  Creating a map, a diagram for an anatomy textbook, or a picture of a leaf to help identify a plant, are all examples of situations that call for accuracy and realism.  (It wouldn’t be very helpful the illustrator of the anatomy or botany textbook got too creative!) These are also scenarios where the end product matters.  It’s about the product, not the process.

None of that means you can’t have a purple cow when you’re working on another kind of project!  Sometimes it’s just about having fun — and often is (and should be!) more about the process than the product.

The goal should be both freedom and boundaries, in a healthy balance and in healthy contexts.  So go ahead and dive into projects inspired by previous artists…just use your inspiration art well.

In Art, Imitation is...Education? (pinnable image)In Art, Imitation is...Education? (pinnable image)
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In Art, Imitation is…Education? is a post from: Titus 2 Homemaker


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