The Fine Line Between Imitation and Inspiration
I was proposed a question recently in a poster artist forum about where the line is between imitation and inspiration. It came up because of a person’s comment that my Dexter poster was just an imitation or rip off of Olly Moss’s Dirty Harry poster. So I was asked to distinguish how mine was or wasn’t an imitation. Being that a similar comment was posted on my page here, and because this is one of my favorite artistic debates, I thought I would share my response with everyone. Feel free to comment, with your own thoughts or opinions on the subject:
I think it is really hard to distinguish the line between imitation and inspiration when in comes to pop culture art. And even harder to find fundamental differences within a genre like minimalism, if for no other reason that there are just fewer elements to make different.
Consider country music as analogy. Now I don’t like country music, to me it’s all the same (southern accents, cowboy hats, song subject matter) To me the whole genre is based on sounding and looking the same. By definition genres are supposed to have similarities in form, style, and subject matter. One could argue that they are just imitating each other. But countless country music fans would say that’s crazy and that those artists are nothing alike, and the only thing they have in common is that they are part of the larger country genre itself.
Minimalist movie posters require the use of iconology (symbolic representation or symbolism of icons) to be effective. My motivation when doing movie posters, is to capture the essence or theme of a two hr movie using a single image(e.g. my Matrix poster of a bent spoon). That being said, EVERY artist doing a Matrix poster is trying to capture that same thing, and is limited to the same elements/icons in the movie (color green, spoon, red pill/blue pill etc.). So undoubtedly there will be repeated versions of that imagery in all of them.
Is one original? Is one a copy? Or are they both individual ideas derived by the same subject matter?
One reason I avoid doing movies that Moss has already done, is because I think he does them impeccably, and I have no desire to try doing them differently, and no hope of doing them better. Moss and I share a medium(posters), a style(minimalist), and a genre(movies) so sometimes that limits the difference to subject matter. And sometimes that is too fine a line to see a difference. Think about every vintage travel poster out there, or every Art Nouveau poster. These are not all imitations of one artists idea.
Consider the Django Unchained poster that was widely (and mistakenly) attributed to Moss because of its simple imagery and red/black color scheme. To me, that’s a testament to the impact his art has made on pop culture, that he has become so synonymous with this style. But in no way does that mean that anyone else who uses that kind of “clever” imagery is ripping off or copying him. Jason Munn is another great example: http://jasonmunn.com/out_of_print_poster.php?name=RollingRoadshow_BonnieClyde
All of these, including mine use Gestalt design principles.
These are not new or exclusive principles. They’re taught in the first year of every art school in the world, and used by any good graphic designer. To think that Olly Moss is the only one who applies them is just misguided.
As far as my Dexter poster goes, as I said before I would never claim that his Dirty Harry poster was not the inspiration behind it. I studied it, and tried to determine why the design worked so well. What elements did he use to make the face look like Clint Eastwood’s? How did he use the negative space effectively? And then I went on to create the elements that would work for my design.
So I don’t know how to fundamentally define the difference between our work. In the digital age where everyone draws with a computer, the line between imitation and inspiration gets harder to see. I can only say as an artist, there’s really no reason simply copy design, there’s nothing fun or challenging to it. But if I see something that inspires me to do something similar, or present it in a different way, I think that’s what all artists strive to do.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.” ― Jim Jarmusch