Thursday, February 16, 2012


I wrote to an artist I had discovered on the internet who was doing some interesting digital images, (not unlike this photo above, which for the purposes of this post, is not his) It inspired me to do something similar in dry stone. I wrote him requesting that we might collaborate or at least wondered if he would be agreeable to me developing the theme of his photos further, only in some sort of dry stone application. 

He kindly wrote me back and gave me permission to publish his photos on my blog but said  he wasn't able to collaborate on a project because he had moved on to some different photographic concepts and he didn't have the time  for anything else. Moreover, I was disappointed to read that his work was "published with a "non derivative" Creative Common License" and that therefore I could not use the idea he had come up with even as a bit of a springboard for something 'derived' from his photos 

It seemed to me that this spelled the end of the creative process for this concept, in terms of where he (or anyone else) was going, unless he decided to pursue it on his own. I do wonder about this sort of thing. While I understand the idea/need of preserving a certain ownership of one's artistic ideas and content, I think there can be unfortunate consequences when it hinders people from developing upon a specific theme just because the person who 'discovered' it  is not only unwilling to allow others to use but not interested in pursuing it any further themselves.

I have given consent on occasion to people using original ideas I've come up with, like the hot wheels loop I did several years ago. It seemed to be a win win situation. 

An idea I came up with and rendered in photoshop for a client.

The finished product.

Sometimes they don't ask me and just use a design or an original idea created in dry stone, just taking credit for it as their own. That's not so nice, but it's still a risk you take when you 'give birth' to an idea. It's okay to be imitated and even not be given the credit  but it is a bit annoying to see people promoting your idea as their own, and in fact merely butchering your creative concept because of how badly they do it.

Is there an answer to being copied badly and should we have the right to 'sit' on our creations?


  1. I agree with your thoughts John, but once an idea is shown in the public domain ,it is very tricky to prevent folk using the idea. They only have to change a tiny aspect to get round the problem. Best thing to do is to ask for permission as you did. But they have to cooperate.

  2. A couple of quotes by Charles Caleb Colton come to mind;

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    We owe almost all our knowledge not to those who have agreed
    but to those who have differed.

    If the imitation is not as great as your own design, you would probably
    still get the credit for having made the creation that people want to copy!
    Enjoy it.

  3. This is an age old question that relates to all forms of art, one I remember being brought up back in art college allot. There dosent seem to be an easy answer. The difference I find between painting and stone is, someone can copy a painting poorly and it can still be appreciated as a work of art. where as with stone if someone tries to copy a work and dose a poor job of it, it just ends up looking a mess. But this in turn begs the question, is it still a copy or just a pile of crap. at the end of the day, a copy of of any work, no matter how good, will never be as good as the original, because it will never have what the original has, that being its originality! And no one can ever get the same satisfaction from creating a copy of something than one gets from realizing their own vision.
    I think we should have the freedom to take inspiration from where we see it, be it from a style of stonework, or a pattern in nature, a photograph or piece of art and take it in our own unique direction making it our own.
    Throughout history many of the great artists were inspired by the greats before them. It is in or nature, we draw inspiration from them not because we want to be them, but because we want to be like them. Creators!
    Dose that make any sense or should I put the brandy back in the cupboard?

  4. You see this a lot in the software industry as well John. In order to keep out of trouble you usually just have to make sure that the developers creating the 'imitation' only know about the outside aspects of the work and not the internals.

    If the developers are good at what they do then the overall effort will result in something at least as good as the original program. If not, then customers will avoid it as sub-standard work. The marketplace is actually pretty good at sorting it out.

    I suppose it's quite similar here: once you've built something there's really nothing you can do to prevent others from coming up with their own installations that outwardly look very similar to yours or incorporates some features of your idea. If the person doing the work is competent then they'll likely get the internals right too. Probably not too much that can be done about it. Better to feel flattered than frustrated I suppose.

    One big difference between dry stone and software: you're working in a craft with thousands of years of history. Someone who is intent on borrowing your idea can probably find an example of 'prior art' to show that the idea isn't uniquely yours.

    While ideas can be borrowed your craftsmanship, together with your ability to marry stone features to the site in a way that engages the observer, is something that belongs uniquely to you. That's what will bring you recognition from your peers and raise the artist above the imitator.

    /Scott C

  5. Another thing I was wondering was, were did your digital artist get their inspiration from. The image above looks a lot like the patterns in Peter Randall's recent works.

  6. Thanks for these thoughts. I agree with most of what's being said here. Just for the record,and to his credit, the digital artist acknowledged where he got his inspiration from. His own images were then 'generated' from a computer program he was working with, but then he put a non derivative content restriction on them, however he was not merely taking photos of a section of coral (say as the one I posted for a substitute example) and calling it his own . Again I had written him to get similar permission, basically to generate real installations inspired by his work using not a computer, but my brain and thinking with my hands.

  7. John,
    You wanted to Collaborate with him not infringe on his computer program. what kind of control does he really have over his own images if he's just selecting them from choices his program offers him?
    Let the impressions of his images stew in your mind for awhile, then ,when you're ready, it will quietly show up in your work,uncalled for,resurfacing as just another integrated inspiration.
    All I can say, speaking from experience, that guy missed a chance of a lifetime.!
    I will collaborate with you any time

  8. Thanks Rhys. Let's do a sand blown glass fractal art piece together some day.