“I recently did a painting that was copied from a picture of someone’s pastel painting (was in Plein Air Magazine.) I used oil paints, the original is pastel. Question: Is it considered unethical to copy someone else’s art work even if you are using a different medium?”
This question came in from a student last month as I offered to answer any ethical questions relating to the world of art-making, selling, and teaching.
The short answer is no. Copying is a time-honored way of creating and improving skills. While copying, you see the solutions that the artist has used and learn from them.
Your finished piece, in incorporating the skills of the original artist, will be not the same—and is likely improved—from what you would do on your own.
That leads us to the more complicated answer to this question, which involves what you do with that artwork.
If it is to sit in your studio to inspire you, no further action is required.
But if you are going to show it on social media or in an exhibition, credit needs to be given if:
~You copied another artist, or were strongly inspired by a work of theirs.
~Your artwork was done in a class or workshop and was improved upon by the instructor’s comments that were specific to your piece.
The practice of giving credit springs from gratitude and a sense of community. We are discussing it here as an ethical question, but it is also an attitude toward life and our fellow humans that has been shown to have many emotional rewards for the practitioner.
If you have benefited from the artwork or instruction/feedback of another artist, a mention or an expression of thanks is always appropriate, both ethically and to foster community-building.