With this online art community, we have a unique opportunity to connect with our kindred. We must avail ourselves of this experience, for, once it's gone, it may never come again.
OBSERVATION # 212 -
Every professional artist has to earn a living, and some struggle at this more than others. Some artists are required to adapt their style to look like that of another; they must adhere to a "house style," or, in the case of work that corresponds to animation, they must keep the character and environmental designs "on model." But in cases where there is more stylistic freedom, I am often disturbed to find artists who deliberately mimic the style of another, whether that of a peer, or that of a predecessor in that field. Having creative influences is one thing, and this is acceptable. However, taking on the exact style of someone else is another thing entirely.
As I said, it can sometimes be a struggle to earn a living as an artist in the pro ranks. In order to stand out, and be more marketable, it may take quite a bit of effort. Indeed, because of this effort, and an attention to detail, you may not be able to produce as much art as is demanded or expected. Along comes an admirer who studies that "sexy" art style, and then proceeds to mold a rather prolific and profitable career as an imitator, getting lots of notice specifically for a style he/she did not create.
Insert whatever callous platitudes you wish, the commercial world is dog-eat-dog, all's fair in love and war, yadda, yadda... I see this as the equivalent of identity theft, for what is an artist's unique style if it is not his/her identity, and means of honest trade? Inevitably, the artist ends up competing with himself, after a fashion.
Even in the case where an artist has retired, or died, their unique identity should be allowed to live on, retaining its distinction (Please bear in mind, homages are a separate issue.).
Indeed, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in this instance, it does also seem like the sincerest form of robbery.
Just sayin'. As always, your mileage may vary. Cheers!
•••• UPDATE - 5/4/2013
It would seem, based on the comments, that I wasn't as clear as I thought. I'll try to reiterate.
On this subject, there are obviously two schools of thought. There are those who see and do the "honorable" thing, adhering to exploring a unique, individual style (Honorable is in quotes because I cannot rightfully expect everyone to have the same idea as I about what is honorable.). And there are those who see all commercial art for what it is: a business. You get over in any way you can.
I am aware of history, how many illustrators employed apprentices, a master teaching his student how to draw according to the master's techniques. Similarly, art teachers and mentors instruct their charges according to the experience acquired, and the methods most effectively used.
I'm talking about an artist as he or she grows to maturity, when he or she comes into their OWN. Now, in the comic book medium, in the branch to which I am referring, there is a measure of latitude, room provided that allows for a freedom of individualistic expression. If it isn't 'sacred,' it most certainly is special! This is a place in the mainstream where an artist can actually make a name for himself, standing out among the crowd for his more personal flair, and perspective. John Buscema's version of Spider-Man or The Hulk or Captain America is distinct from that of Jack Kirby, or John Byrne, and there is intrinsic value to this that can rarely be found or enjoyed anywhere else. I am NOT talking about INFLUENCES. Everybody has influences. Everybody's art looks a little like that of another artist. No, the issue is when there is a deliberate effort to mimic the style of another artist, to the extent that any remaining vestige of distinction is almost irrelevant. THIS is what I find abhorrent, and ultimately dishonorable. It's even a disservice to the mimicking artist, as they surrender the opportunity to express their own individuality for the sake of "impersonating" someone else. And IF that mimic is so skilled as to copy a superior artist well enough, it begs the question: Why couldn't he invest those skills into creating a style all his own?
Yes, the business angle is ever-present. Inventors and culinary innovators are copied and ripped off all the time in the callous world of big business. In comics, publishers may encourage the proliferation of a "hot" style if it means a sales spike. And so, they share in the blame, if we are to call it that. But the analogy could be that of the pusher, or the enabler, compared to the one actually buying the drugs. Perhaps that's too harsh. It is a difficult profession in which to earn a living. Get in where you fit in? Save the fancy individualization for less commercial pursuits? Fine. Like I said, there are two schools of thought, one more mercenary, one more "Pollyanna." I prefer "Pollyanna." Maybe I do so because I've enjoyed some greater measure of success in my career. I'm not starving (at the moment). So be it. But I believe I'm the sort of stubborn that would still feel the same, no matter the circumstances. In the commercial field, artists do not GET the chance very often to express an individuality. In some mainstream comic books, in book jacket design, movie posters, album covers, children's books, tattoo design--- these are the categories that allow for more freedom of expression, and some of these have nearly faded away. In animation, and product art, you must MATCH the art style established, or you fail. Why suppress your own uniqueness in a medium where you don't have to do so? It's far more rewarding to just BE YOURSELF.
Travis Charest began his career in comics aping the very popular "West Coast" style of Jim Lee, as many others did. But Travis slowly and steadily moved away from that, until he created a style all his own. And by 'all his own' I mean it is distinctive, even if there may be traces of the art styles he may have used as influences. Adam Hughes entered comics on the mainstream stage following Kevin Maguire on JUSTICE LEAGUE. After emulating Maguire, he quickly established himself in dramatic fashion. Adam has incorporated elements of Mucha, just as Brian Stelfreeze has incorporated elements of Leyendecker. These are motifs, and homages. Influences, and nothing more. Almost a lifetime ago, on one of my many failed projects (Haha!), I was instructed to straight-up copy the art style of Craig Hamilton. Rather than refusing outright, I took the opportunity to learn from Hamilton's work, while managing to introduce my own sensibilities so that the art was influenced, but still my OWN.
It has bugged me to see artwork which I initially perceived as that of Adam Hughes, or George Pérez, yet it was someone else. Upon closer inspection, there is, thankfully, a telltale superficiality in the adopted style that is noticed by the trained eye, and the work of the original artist is preferred. Nevertheless, it is the assessment of the untrained eye on which the commercial interest hinges. Indeed, these other artists have gone on to have great success as "clones." I cannot say whether the artists being imitated are flattered, or apathetic. And it is what it is. This is only my personal rant, my perspective. Judgement is reserved for each to do privately. And as always, your mileage may vary.
*** Again, I invite all who are interested to find me on Facebook, under the same name. I often post topics like this for discussion, along with silly jokes, film reviews, and other fun stuff.