"Those who don't want to imitate anything produce nothing." Salvador Dali
The quote above interests me. In October 2014 I had an illuminating experience (illumination will figure in this story). While standing close to someone looking at one of my paintings, (the one pictured below) I heard her say, "Well, this is just a rip off." I was taken aback. I should have turned on my heal immediately, but did not. Instead, I asked her what she meant. After she determined that I was the artist, she said that my art was copied from work made by an artist she knew. I was aware of the paintings created by said artist (she has also paints trees). My work isn't the same as hers, and I told my accuser so. The conversation never improved, but my attitude about it has. The woman was rude in the extreme, but her barbs made me think. What she said could have stopped the enthusiasm I have for painting the subjects that I choose to paint. Instead, her comments have made me think about originality, creativity, and inspiration. I personally think that we can be inspired by so many sources. I am not sure that I would call these influences imitations, as Dali did, but I get his meaning.
Fast forward to a recent visit to the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida. While there, I took in the exhibition, "Monet and the American Impressionists." The Harn Museum was a wonderful surprise, and this particular exhibition was well worth the visit.
I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a particular painting by Helen Maria Turner. Turner impressed me as a successful female artist in a time when a woman working outside the home was particularly difficult. Turner was more than fifty years old before she achieved both critical and commercial success. Though she traveled widely, Turner’s greatest source of inspiration was the wooded ambience of Cragsmoor, in Ulster County, New York. Cragsmoor was an artists’ colony where she maintained a summer home until the 1940s.
Summer residents at the artist colony at Cragsmoor used Japanese paper lanterns to light their way at night, which explains her use of the lanterns in her painting entitled, "Lilies, Lanterns, and Sunshine," painted in 1923. The reproduction below doesn't begin to do justice to the painting I viewed in Florida.
The minute that I saw Turner's canvas, I was reminded of John Singer Sargent's "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," as that painting includes two figures with Japanese lanterns as well. Sargent's painting was completed in 1885-6. I realized that my antagonist would have likely castigated Helen Maria Turner for "copying" Sargent since both paintings included Japanese lanterns and two figures in the compositions. I don't know if Turner saw the painting by Sargent, but they are clearly different pieces of art with different sensibilities. If I ever encounter a barb from a viewer again accusing me of copying another's work, I have my answer ready!