Regarding the use of references


The use of references has been a hot topic in the digital art community since its inception. The world of digital art is constantly evolving, and the general attitude also shifts with it. A recent thread discussed this topic in detail, and I think it’s an important read for anyone who either cares about or is confused by the entire issue. I have posted my stance on the matter in that thread (a copy of it is posted below), so please read it. If you have things you want to add or discuss, please reply to the linked original thread.

The original thread:

My post from that thread:

[b]The forum leaders/admins have been discussing this very topic recently in private, and we’re still trying to find a solution for changing certain misconceptions and turning the general mentality of the public around. Our digital world is changing all the time, and with each change, the paradigm shifts–for some, uncomfortably, and for some, it’s a welcome evolution.

I’ll post a snippet from one of my posts in the forum leader discussions here–it’ll give you guys an idea of what we’ve been discussing and where we might be heading (keep in mind, we’re still trying to find a solution, and nothing’s been decided yet):


I haven’t posted a lot lately, mostly because I’ve been busy as hell, but also because I’m going through a period of personal growth. I just turned 34, and how I see the world now is very different from even just a year ago. It’s been a long and hard year for my family, and the most important cumulative lesson I’ve learned in the recent years is to simply live and let live. We are just too different as people–even those of us who might share similar hobbies, passions…etc could still be drastically different from each other in world view, values, beliefs, personality…etc. It’s far better to work towards a common bond than to pit us against each other, and this leads to my point of view on the matter.

I agree with Wiro’s general point of view, and I do feel that we need to make changes–maybe not necessarily about the rules, but more about the way we convey the rules and the reasons behind them.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about for a while now has to do with how the digital art world has changed the way we think about how art should be made, and what is the most prized aspect of any given artwork. In the world of commercial art, no one gives a shit whether you manipulated photos, painted over photos, or whatever else–all that matters is the resulting image–will it make a great book cover? Will it make a killer movie poster? Will the editorial illustration make a strong visual impact? Will it look fabulous on that new CD cover? It’s even less of a concern in the entertainment industry behind the scenes–matte paintings, textures, concept art…etc. No one gives a shit. Even commercial photography is heavily manipulated these days–cosmetic ads, product shots, celebrity photos–you name it.

So why is it that on a website where the majority of the members are amateurs and hobbyists, we should make such a gigantic deal about this?

I used to care about all this. I don’t anymore. It just doesn’t make sense to get hung up on it all because you either adapt to the way the trend is heading, or you become an angry person who’s always pissed off at what everyone else is doing. In the end, I just want to like an image for what it conveys–emotions, stories, messages…etc. Technique is not nearly as important to me as it used to be–it’s simply something that happens with time. I’ve seen far too many artists with great technique but absolutely nothing to say–not even for the sake of entertainment–just completely unimaginative and souless. And I think most of you will agree that technique is about the only thing that CAN be taught–everything else has to come from the inside–talent, vision, passion, imagination, creativity…etc.

I understand the point about protecting cgtalk from lawsuits. I think someone posted something a while back about how the website is not liable in situations like that–the artist is. I don’t remember where I read that though.

I think maybe we could simply stress the point about legal issues involving using someone else’s photos. As long as the members understand that someone else’s photo is someone else’s copyright, then the point is made. As far as artists using their own photos–that really shouldn’t be an issue anymore. It’s up to them if they want to do photo manipulation, paint from scratch, combination of both (to varing degrees/ratios), and it’s up to them to either state how they did the piece, or answer questions about it from others down the line if they don’t. We shouldn’t have to force anyone. This way, there’s no reason to lie–as all digital art would be seen as equal–there’s no reason to portray something as what it isn’t. I’d think it would be absurd to say that Dave McKean is a lesser artist simply because photo manipulation/paintover is an essential ingredient in his work, and it is precisely this point that we should drive home to the members.

We should stop propagating the idea that unless you paint everything from scratch, you should somehow feel ashamed, and we should also educate others about how photos are used by professional artists in the commercial art/entertainment world. Any commercial artist worth his/her salt can paint from scratch highly polished images either out of their head or by looking at some references–they don’t do it on the job because there is simply no point to waste time and energy when a photo could be used as a shortcut–but that’s what it is–a shortcut, not a crutch. Of course, if we tell them that, then the amateur/aspiring artists will use that as an excuse for spamming every single piece of their work with tons of photos. It is up to us to convey to them that although that is a valid way to create art, it will not guarantee a job, because professional artists in our industry are expected to be able to produce believable work from scratch. It is then up to them to decide for themselves if they want to go the extra mile and learn how to draw/paint properly at an advanced level. If someone who does digital art as a hobby wants to just have fun, then let them, as long as they don’t break the rule about using someone else’s photograph without giving proper credit. Of course, we still hold the right to reject artwork that’s simply just crap. ;)"

And another of my posts in the same thread later:

"We could start with two simultaneous acts to swing things around.

  1. Expand the [/b] [b]Plagiarism / Dishonest portrayal of work rule by adding the stuff we’ve been discussing here.

  2. Post a forum-wide notice that points everyone to the expanded rule, and then also elaborate on the matter with a more detailed essay (cited as a collective one from all forum leaders) on how the digital art world has changed the way we see the process of creating art, how that process is used in the commercial/entertainment world, and how professional artists can create high quality work both from their heads and from photos, as it is expected of them on the job, and both are valid ways of creating a piece of work. And finally, that whether using photos or painting from scratch is a personal decision, and whether you disclose your methods is your own choice–unless asked by others, then you shouldn’t lie because there should be no reason to lie. Whether an artist is deemed “better” for not using reference or photos is a matter of personal taste, as technique comes in many different forms–Dave McKean is a great example of someone who is an excellent traditional artist that can draw/paing with the best of them, but chose to express himself by combining photography, drawing/painting, typography, and design.

It shouldn’t be as hard as Steven thinks, because I do believe what we’re trying to convey will resonate with a lot of artists out there."

One of the reasons why the forum leaders/admins haven’t reached a decision yet is because we’re not sure if we can really do anyting to change the public’s perception and the current trend. We could try to to implement elaborations/changes to the rules, and post forum-wide notices, but some feel that won’t do anything as most people are too lazy to read these types of notices/rules anyway, and many are so set in their belief that nothing we say will change how they feel in their disposition regarding the issue.

So, with no resolution currently available, I’d like to know what you, the members, feel about what we as forum leaders/admins can do.[/b]