Can I copy Someone Else's Pottery?

Can I copy Someone Else's Pottery?

I was in year 4 when I covered my book in pink polka dots and upset another student because pink polka dots were her thing. The teacher shrugged and told us that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” which placated us both, but I was concerned. I had copied her and I didn’t want to upset someone, but I was pretty sure plenty of people had scribbled circles of pink and coloured them in before, dots weren't hers. Pink belongs to everyone. 


Originality in ceramics is a hotly debated topic in the shop and it’s nuanced and complex. We all want to celebrate the diversity and innovation in Australian ceramics, so it’s imperative that we understand the importance of protecting the unique creations of our talented artists, however it’s a common and a helpful starting point for potters who are still finding their unique voice to replicate others work, so what is ok and what isn’t?



The Essence of Originality:



At the heart of every pottery piece lies the essence of the maker. Ceramicists can draw inspiration from their surroundings, personal experiences, and cultural influences, crafting pieces that reflect their individuality and they probably took a long time to hone this aesthetic. The tactile nature of clay provides a canvas for artists to experiment with shapes, textures, and glazes, this will result in one-of-a-kind creations, which is what we all strive to make. But originality is not just about producing something entirely unprecedented, that isn't really possible, most art commentators and critics would agree that there is no such thing as originality and everything has already been done, so originality in this context means infusing a personal touch and unique perspective into the creative process. 



Navigating the Copyright Landscape:


Copyright is a set of rights, they provide protection for artwork from being copied, changed or exploited and acknowledges that the artistic product belongs to someone. 


In the world of ceramics, the concept of copyright plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the intellectual property of artists. Copyright provides creators with exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and display their work. However, navigating the nuances of copyright in the context of ceramics isn't straight forward.


In Australia, copyright protection is automatically granted to original works, including ceramic pieces, the moment they are created. This protection extends to the artistic expression and form of the work but does not cover functional or utilitarian aspects.

For functional items (like plates or bowls), the focus of copyright protection is on the artistic elements rather than the utilitarian purpose.


So you can’t own sake style cups and you can’t tell other potters not to make them, you also can’t own drippy glaze, (it's a very old tradition), you can't try to go after everyone making boobie mugs, (it's a very new tradition but that horse has bolted).



Ethical Considerations:


Respecting the creative process involves acknowledging the time, skill, and personal expression invested by the original artist. Luckily, the local pottery community is very welcoming and thrives on the exchange of ideas and techniques. To be a part of it, it is essential to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation for the diverse voices that contribute to the world of ceramics. 


At the heart of the matter lies a fundamental ethical question: is it morally acceptable to replicate or imitate another artist's ceramic work? While influence and inspiration are natural parts of the creative process, there exists a fine line between homage and outright reproduction. Copying a piece too closely may undermine the original artist's creative efforts, potentially diminishing the value of their work and eroding the sense of individuality within the ceramics community.



Creative Exploration, Challenges and Grey Areas:



On the flip side, the act of emulating or riffing off another artist's work can be a valuable part of the learning process for ceramicists. It serves as a means of exploring different techniques, styles, and forms. Engaging with the work of others can inspire new ideas, spark innovation, and contribute to the evolution of your own artistic practice and create a style or movement which captures ideas between different artists. 


However, the key lies in transforming rather than replicating. Using an existing piece as a starting point for experimentation and personal interpretation allows artists to build upon the foundation laid by their predecessors, creating something unique and distinctive.

Recognising the balance between influence and imitation is crucial to fostering a healthy creative community. 



The Power of Collaboration & Avoiding Cultural Appropriation.



If you find an artist's work that really speaks to you and you want to add something to the conversation, why not contact them and see if there is potential for a project you can collaborate on together. The synergy of diverse perspectives, shared experiences, and collective creativity can give rise to pieces that transcend individual imaginations. 


Collaboration is also the only appropriate way of using themes or work from a culture that isn’t your own, it can foster a deeper understanding of cultural nuances, allowing for a more authentic representation. This is really important if you are wanting to use patterns or motifs that come from First Australian stories, traditions, and perspectives. Out of respect, It's not ok to use these without permission. In a collaboration by working together, artists can blend their skills and insights, ensuring a more comprehensive and respectful exploration of indigenous themes where it’s appropriate. This collaborative approach not only creates compelling artworks but also contributes to a sense of unity, promoting cross-cultural dialogue and appreciation within the broader artistic community. 


Supporting local artists, attending exhibitions and events, and engaging in conversations about the creative process all play a role in promoting a vibrant and respectful community.


So…pink dots or no?


Something was omitted in the whole pink dots debacle and that was the rest of the Oscar Wilde quote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” That second part really matters. Ultimately finding your own voice is important because it is how you will find self expression and discover what it is that only you can say and let your work reflect you.


You can use someone's work as inspiration, as a starting point, but then think about what drew you to this aesthetic, make a list of some of your own influences, things that inspire you, what unique blend of aesthetic elements can you bring to your work? What is your story and how can it be expressed? 

Then play! 

Eventually, your own aesthetic will emerge and it will feel more genuine and exciting than making replicas.


Embracing the diversity of artistic voices and understanding the nuances of different artists' work is integral for all of us. We should continue to celebrate the beauty of original creations and champion the rights of our talented ceramic artists. 



Let us know what you think! leave a comment below if you have some thoughts, if you have had your work copied and how you feel about it, or if you want to copy work and you're uncertain about the parameters.

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