Posted on 16 Comments

More food for thought

The ownership and accusation discussion is still attracting a few comments here and there, but has died down for the most part. Because I somehow ended up consumed by this topic again today, I thought I would share with you some links where related observations and conversations have been happening. Just in case you haven’t already had enough, or maybe you wanted to enjoy another perspective with your morning tea (or late night wine cooler), here are some places to check out:

  • The comments on this eleven-day-old Polymer Clay Daily post touched on the issues of copyright and altered art.
  • This Polymer Clay Central thread, started ten days ago, explores the fear of accidentally copying another’s work from the point of view of a relative newbie.
  • Molly posted last week her thoughts about artists developing similar techniques independently of one another.
  • Barb had two posts last week which pondered the ideas of inspiration and labels.
  • Kim posted today her feelings on the topic from the point of view of an instructor.

And here’s one from just over one year ago, which just goes to show that this has been on the polymer clay community’s mind for some time (and will probably still be an issue down the road): This post from Polymer Clay Daily includes a lively, 30-comment-strong discussion of the topic.

I am alternating between finding this conversation fascinating and exhausting. Tonight, I’m feeling somewhat emotionally and physically spent. I’ve been up into the wee hours of the morning several recent nights, talking about this with Neil (bouncing ideas off of someone not affiliated with the community can be an interesting eye-opener; you should try it), working to craft well-worded replies to those I respectfully disagree with, and just thinking about some of the personal ramifications of this whole experience.

Pool timeI think what I need right now is to shut down the computer, lay down my head and dream of blue skies, bare feet, and wet summer grass. Maybe all of us who have felt particularly “embroiled” could use a nap and a pleasant dream. To come back to the table in the morning refreshed, revived, and ready to get back to the business of making beautiful things sounds like a worthwhile goal to me.

Sweet dreams!


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Posted on 16 Comments

16 thoughts on “More food for thought

  1. And to focus on the really important content here: I have the same kiddie pool. We had a big surprise party for my Mom 2 summers ago, and wanted entertainment for the kids. 3 of those pools kept about a dozen kids, ages 2-8, amused for over 3 hours. $20 well spent. I hope you guys get as much fun out of yours.

    1. Oh, we have! We bought it at the beginning of last summer and used it almost every day. That picture is from August of last year. I was really missing those sunny, relaxing Summer days last night 🙂

  2. I haven’t checked in lately and thought I’d stop by to say hello! I’m VERY interested in copyright issues these days myself. I’m consulting with a government agency to give two lectures on plagiarism and copyright violations, so I’ve been doing some research. Interesting how these ideas are popping up everywhere!

    Sorry you are feeling in a tempest in your polymer world! How well I remember how rough that feels from our own journey at M2KM. It’s no fun when friends are fighting. I hope it all cools down soon for you!

    1. In some ways it would be so much easier if these kinds of discussions in artistic communities were strictly copyright-related. Unfortunately, it is rarely that black-and-white, since creativity can’t easily be copyrighted. That line between imitation and inspiration seems to be in a different place for each artist. If we could all just accept that, and be confident enough in our own work not to perceive another person’s art as a threat, this argument would come up a lot less frequently!

      I am pretty sure this whole thing has run its course in my own mind. I’m glad I brought it up, but I’m ready to get back to the usual mix of creativity and domesticity around here!

      Thanks for dropping by – I hope your lectures go well, and if you have anything to add on the “ownership” thread, please feel free (even if you completely disagree with me – I’m open to that point-of-view, too!) 🙂

  3. Lots of good discussion in this blog. I have always liked you Lisa for having curage to address difficult issues. Thank you for starting this discussion!

    About year ago I suggested that the community should define what are creative common techniques. To my surprise some felt that the idea of listing techniques should be some kind of blacklist of what one should not use. That was not my idea at all – I just merely thought that the idea of listing common techniques similarily to – for example – knitting stitches would help at least those people who are new to clay. As there clearly are lots of common techniques that the whole community feels are free to use by anybody.

    I have had lots of emails about that one comment and have had lots of interesting discussions about the matter since. One thing that is not much said in public is that the discussion about copying is also driving people from clay. They go to other mediums or stop sharing with the community when they get lots of comments from new discoveries to them like “oh, this is technique from X and style from Y” or “Name.of.supestar did similar things in the old ages”. The comments do not usually mean anything bad or are not ment to make people feel their work is less, but I have had several emails about people feeling that the community only supports few pre- selected named members and others work is not worth anything. I dont aggree that it is the case with the community, but the feeling is visible in between the lines with the current discussions too.

    The problem with polymer clay community, IMO, is that as this was so new medium 10-15 years ago we oldies got used to the idea of everything being “brand new”, “complately different”, “first time ever”. We kindof learned that polymer clay is material where one needs to discover new techniques and complately new style to become artist in this field. The ones among us that persued their dreams got know by their techniques – the artists that the community admire now were teachers, innovators, mad scientists that got a huge part of their reputation from techniques they discovered.

    Lets face it: polymer clay is not an infant anymore, the techniques ARE here at anyones reach. IMO the most innovative and “fresh looking” work and ideas nowadays come from “strangers and newbies”. But – compared to decade ago – the new and fresh does not mean starting from complately new anymore. The techniques, the twists, the colours, the shapes, textures etc. that feel new are coming from people who follow their own pasion and style with the techniques and instructions widely available. It is way more about the message, the vision than it was about technique. Now we have real artists among us – people who just create with the materials and techniques common to us all and with their own style and message. We all wanted this when the journey begun. Not everyone is Elvis Presley, but that should not stop the evelopent of music or make people feel they are not good if they are not as good as Elvis.

    The straight cases of copyright are pretty clear to everyone discussing. But the gray area has lots of strong opinions and heated emotions. To me the most exhausting part of this discussion is the heat, and the belief that this issue could and should be “solved”. The discussion needs to go on and all the different aspects need to be addressed out loud. There is so much to speak and consider in this issue and IMO this is the best start ever. I still have not meat a clayer who does not think theese issues – and to many theese issues are in a way of relaxed creating.

    Studying the ethics and morality of creating is always a part of artistical process – this really is art too. I just wish more people would show their opinions and feelings with their work than with words. Of course I could have done that too, instead I have sat here ranting for hour. Maybe I should look at the mirror and go create a statement of what I actually feel about this instead of trying to use my brain and logics to discuss this – after all this is something that also touches my emotions, not just my brains 😉

    Pörrö from Finland

    See what Pörrö has been blogging about: Joka wanhoja muistelee, sitä tikulla silmään

    1. Pörrö, I am so glad to read your opinion on the subject. I really feel that you hit the nail right on the head – several times, in fact! The more I read, and the more I think, the more I start to feel that maybe we have unwittingly created a “class” system in our community. There seem to me to be three distinctions (although, there could be more, and maybe some people cross classes):

      1. The "superstars": Includes many pioneers in the field. These are well-known, well-respected names that are on the tip of most clay enthusiasts’ tongues. They are the artists that the other classes have been looking up to for many years now.
      2. The "minor celebrities": Those who are not necessarily full-time artists, who may have been working in clay for a long time, and who may have a small but loyal following, but are not household names
      3. The "newbies": Those who are new-ish to polymer clay, and excited by it, but still getting their feet wet.

      At the Synergy conference, I was impressed by how easily these groups fit together. I consider myself one of the second group, but I had some wonderful conversations with “newbies,” and I partied with some “superstars.” It was a delightfully class-free environment, and as such it was very exciting to me. Now here we are less than a month later, and one thing that I am seeing quite clearly is that these group distinctions are alive and well. The reactions to my earlier post have almost entirely followed along “class” lines:

      1. The "superstars" have almost entirely stayed out of it, at least publicly. It’s hard to know if they agree completely, disagree completely but don’t want to speak up, agree with what I said but not how I said it, or don’t really have an opinion.
      2. Many "minor celebreties" have stood up and said either that they agree wholeheartedly, or that they agree in part.
      3. The "newbies" are questioning whether involvemet in this community is worth it, and whether they’re going to be persecuted during their learning curve.

      It’s the reaction of the “newbies” that I find most disturbing. It doesn’t bode well for the future, if a majority of the new blood is afraid to experiement and put their work out there.

      I don’t really have any suggestions here, I just have been finding it interesting to note that invisible lines are being reinforced in the course of this discussion. I don’t have any experience in any other artistic communities that can tell me if this is normal or something unique to us, but I suspect there is a degree of normalcy in all of this and it will work itself out as we mature along with our medium. At least, I hope so!

      And, Pörrö, you spoke your case so eloquently – I wish your blog were in English (or that Google could translate from Finnish) so that I could keep up with you more often. Thanks for dropping by!

      And on a completely different note, after trying to write the whole post in this dinky editor, and trying to make it look nice, I have decided we definitely need the ability to preview comments around here. Off I go in search of a plugin 😉

      1. In any community there always are insiders, outsiders, groups and subgroups. That is natural and even couraged in a way as the being in a creative art group or community usually produces good for the whole audience in the field. All art communities – how ever loose – need people who have the feeling of unity and who support eachother with the creating. That drives both techniqal and artistical innovations further. How ever that can be really hard and harsh socially to eny newcommers if the community is not open about taking new people into the groups and sub-groups. No one wants to feel rejected and with artists rejection always does some harm to the art/craft itself.

        I dont think the class system works as straightly than you put it, but that is a good sketch of it. I think there are lots of subgroups, variations and groups based on geographical location or based on where in the net people hang around. The group that sells on Etsy is IMO really good example of strong, vivid and fruitfull artistical co- operation where I have benefitted even when I am not in the group myself. The Etsy folks have inspired me tons – not because the work is so stunningly technically new but because they all seem to have the voice of their own and do not seem to be too influenced by the general claying community. They consentrate on pleasing their customers and their developement on the feeld seems to be quite rapid because of that aspect.

        What I myself find alarming is that people feel that they are treated as worthless when they experiment starting from the base they learned from someone else. If someone teaches something they must know that some people out there are bound to experiment with the knowledge given and go further than even the teacher has gone. All the teachers speak about how they want people to learn and explore – and then when they do the community seems to be very upset. Sorry to be so harsh, but I have very little time with the net nowadays and this is the impression I get from snipets of discussions here and there. It might not be true – and it can be that I have only read 1/100th of the discussions, but still that is one thing I have seen so many times.

        I do remember a discussion with a friend and teacher who told about a student that discovered 10 more variations in two weeks to one technique the teacher had developed for 2 years. She was jelous at first but then she realised that the jelouness came from the inner feeling of not being “better”. It happend some years ago and the actual case is not that important, but the discussion made a strong impact to me as I am also teaching claying here. Sometimes I find myself feeling afraid of “not being the guru anymore” but the feeling passes as soon as I do something new and move along. But I am in Finland – no one here knows claying like me. Its easy to be star here as there is not really any competition. I still have income coming from teaching even if I teach millefiori stripes, spirals and bullseyes. The medium is so new here that I do not even need to teach the stuff I am using for my art. Right now it is more than enough when I teach the basics.

        One can not own a technique. If you teach and share it, others can do lots of stuff with it including teaching and sharing the technique. In claying community we have had the moral rule of not teaching the things we have learned from other teachers, but the reality is that techniques are not copyrighted designs. In any other medium people teach what they have learned. If you are not ready for being outwitted with the ideas you publish and the techniques you discovered it is not wise to share them or teach them.

        I dont share some of my claying in the net at all – and I am very picky about people who I share the pictures with email. With two kids and one company and lots of teaching basic claying (yes, the kind that starts from how to condition clay!) I have not had enough time to my art to really go where I want to go before I try to publish it farther. This is my choise and I know that means that my reputation as clayer is based on the work I share in public – that is mainly crafting. I dont mind that – I have choosen it.

        See what Pörrö has been blogging about: Joka wanhoja muistelee, sitä tikulla silmään

  4. A lot of good points, Porro. And I am one of those who feels like it is time for me to step out of the polymer clay scene—and I am not even an actor in the scene, but have been around a long time doing my thing. I have not just been a part of the audience enjoying other’s work either, but trying in a small way to spread the joy and possibilities of polymer clay. I will always have polymer clay around (I have clay that is from 1984 and it still works!) and use it when I need it for my other work, but I will not be working with polymer clay as if I wish to discover all the possibilities it offers.

    I like discussions on copyrights, ownership, etc, but it is wearing on my creativity when I see so much that is “claimed” by others and I know I discovered the same thing many, many years ago through playing with the clay! I think we have to step back amd discuss finished designs and the copyrights of those designs and not worry so much about how one got there with the technique. The completed piece is exactly where copyright goes in effect. Unless one puts a technique in the form of a written tutorial or video or book, it is not really copyrightable for the most part. (And this is where I see that what Lisa did with publishing her own method of using Cormier’s technique or inspiration was not a problem. It was her experience, her take on the technique.) This can hurt teachers who teach (and I am one of those, too), but if technique is taught and whatever is made with the finished product is left to the student, then there is less of a problem. I know a lot of clayers want to take a class where they can walk out of a class with a finished product, but in the end, I see most of these looking just like the teacher’s. One exception was Eugena Topina’s class. Some of us brought our own designs to class and used her technique and then we were able to leave with pieces that would never be mistaken as Eugena’s.

    I would venture to say that if polymer clay were given to a fiber artist, she would discover many, many techniques that would cross over to polymer clay without any prompting from what is found online or a polymer clay teacher. A potter, a painter, a glass artist, a paper artist, etc would all bring what they already know to the clay. We often forget that these same techniques were around in other media long before polymer clay existed and if one worked in many different mediums, it is only a natural progression for one to try the known with polymer clay.

    I agree that maybe some of the disagreements come due to the fact that polymer clay is a relatively new medium. Still a lot of the other arts have the same types of discussions and they have been going on all of my life time. So it may be that this will never be settled- and maybe as you suggest, this is good. I don’t know.

    Porro is right. Some of the freshest polymer clay is coming from the newbies. It is the same reason that I treasure my first works and although the fine finish may not be there, there is a freshness to the pieces. I know several polymer clayers who do wonderful work and we never hear of them as they do not have a on-line presence or at least it is very minimal. So for every one of the well-known clayers out there, I believe there are hundreds of small-time clayers and a small percentage of these are doing work that would astound the “big names” with their discoveries and techniques.

    Enough rambling….Happy claying to all!

    See what Jeanne Rhea has been blogging about: Women and Men, Selling, and Artists Blogs

    1. I hope you don’t let these arguments take the joy out of claying for you. They seem to pop up annually or so, don’t they? Maybe when the next wave is poised to strike, turn off the computer for a few weeks until the turmoil has died down. Then, hop back online to show the world what great art you managed to crank out while everybody else was bickering 😉

  5. Lisa, legally a technique can’t be copyrighted, only the creation made using that technique. A technique can be patented, but unless it’s going to be something used often enough or in so many ways that it will profit the creator, it probably isn’t. When I looked at your post, I saw something that had been inspired by someone else (who was credited) but given your own personal spin. I wish you had been at last month’s NJPCG meeting, because it was a perfect example of an instructor teaching a technique, and thirty-something different variations on a theme.

    Taking something that someone sells and giving it away for free is obviously wrong (duplicates of class handouts is a good example that was mentioned) but showing how you used your knowledge from a class to make something different is going to either inspire people to try it and come up with yet another variation, or make them want to take the class to start from the same point that you did.

    In the sewing world, a pattern is copyrighted, but the general rule is that if you want to use it as a jumping-off point for your own, it needs to be changed a minimum of 10%. (Looking through the big pattern books, and seeing so much stuff that looks the same, I’d say that’s more of a suggestion than a rule. Just my two cents.) The idea is that you don’t profit from someone else’s work, or steal potential profit from them. If someone took you to court over this, they’d lose. Go rest easy. You need your sleep to keep up with those boys, if nothing else.

    1. I wish I hadn’t been coughing up a lung, so I could have been at that meeting! I love Ellen’s work, and I would have enjoyed seeing her teach. Surface embellishment is so far outside of what I normally do, but that kind of thing still gives me good ideas that I can adapt.

      Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts! I really want to get to the next guild meeting, and I will, unless I find myself roped into throwing a birthday party for the little guy that day. Hopefully I can do it on Saturday and keep Sunday free.

  6. […] point to make on the general (non-situation-specific) topic, you are welcome to post it over on the More Food For Thought post.  I appreciate everyone’s participation in this conversation – I think it’s given […]

  7. At this point, everyone seems so entrenched in their particular point of view that any disagreement feels like a personal attack. To that end, I would recommend that everyone take a deep breath and read this blog post from musician Christine Kane:

    She’s a wise woman, and kind of funny, too.

    1. Well, I finally got a chance to read this, and yeah. I can see how this applies. To several of us 😉 I’m bookmarking this for the next time I’m feeling particularly persecuted, for whatever reason.

  8. I’ve been quietly reading your blog for some time, and following this discussion with interest. I’ve been a mixed media artist and instructor for nearly 20 years. I don’t have a web presence. I’ve never published an article or written a book–I’m a complete “nobody” in the polymer clay world, but a successful local artist. I can tell you right now that I came up with a nearly identical clay blend process years ago when I was messing around with alternative skinner blends, and that I’ve taught it repeatedly.

    I think if you’re basing your career (and income) on marketing a technique vs. selling a fabulous piece of art, you’re going to have problems. What surprises me the most is that many of the artists who seem to have problems with the techniques issue and who are involved in this discussion are well respected and nationally known. They have no reason to feel threatened by someone using a similar technique. People don’t take classes from well known artists because that’s the only place where they can learn a technique (anyone can combine different colors of clay–I work with preteens who do it every day)–they take classes with an artist because they want some contact with the amazing and individual creativity, and the quality of workmanship, that inspired and shaped the art to begin with. You sell yourself, your vision, and your skills with the classes–not the technique itself. You can’t personally or legally “own” a technique, but you do “own” your own art. My advice to anyone hung up on this (nationally known or not) is to let go and move on.

  9. Although I am late to this discussion, I wish to contribute my comments. I dabble in polymer clay and have done so for 15 or more years. I buy books, take classes and play at home. I would not take a class from some one who wishes to ‘own’ the technique they teach. Why teach it? Hold it close and work in the dark while muttering ‘mine’ instead of offering public instruction. If I see the technique will I be forced to forget it immediately so it can continue to be taught for a fee? A class given by an skilled artist is so much more than technique alone. Why would I expose myself to the type of harassment Lisa endured during the last few weeks? Part of filling classes is public relations; based on the post I just read I know I will avoid certain teachers.

    Thank you Lisa for not folding under this onslaught. I hope to read your blog more often in the future.


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