For today’s installment of our Best of 2014 series, we have a selection from regular contributor Adam Rompel, who writes, “What’s better than having an art-existential crisis? Finding the answer to one. I picked this specific ‘Help Desk’ entry because it hits a universal neurotic nerve that all artists have around authorship and originality. It is one that has informed my own work more than any other. The privileged concept of authorship is a Modernist one, fueled by a late-capitalism-obsessed art market. What does it mean to think that an idea or technique has its origin with a single person? What does it mean when that person is you and someone else has nicked your idea?” This article was written by Bean Gilsdorf and originally published on May 27, 2014.
Last year I made a sculpture that was technically rather challenging but resulted in something I thought was a successful piece, which I displayed in a small group show. It’s a concept I’ve recently returned to in numerous exhibition proposals, though none have yet been accepted by the galleries I’ve contacted. Today I discovered that an acquaintance of mine is copying this technique in a sculpture for an upcoming exhibition. I know this individual is aware of my own work because this artist “liked” the picture I posted of my sculpture on Facebook over a year ago. Of course it’s entirely possible this artist has forgotten seeing the piece, but the resemblance is unsettling. Normally I would just shrug it off and say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery—but it’s not terribly flattering when your imitator has the advantage of a significant solo exhibition wherein to display the work. I don’t know if I have any real right to be upset, but I am. Do I say something? Or do I just carry on making my own (I believe superior, if admittedly little-exhibited) work and let that speak for itself?
The phrase “there’s nothing new under the sun” goes all the way back to the Bible, but somehow when we have an innovative notion, it seems like it is ours and ours alone. Your dilemma gets right to the heart of artistic practices and the mystique that concepts and techniques still hold for artists. Sacred, slippery, jealously guarded…sometimes it feels like our good ideas are all we have. I don’t blame you for feeling upset; you’ve been dealt a swift karate chop straight to the Achilles heel of your current practice—but you must allow the force of emotion to kick you into high gear instead of getting depressed or debilitated. Above all, you should absolutely keep on making your work, because studio time will help you maintain your sanity. Remember that this technique is relatively new to you and will evolve over time and become something different—provided that you keep working.
Try to put this moment into perspective. Even though this artist is going to have a “significant” solo show of the work, remember that it is only one exhibition, probably open for only one month; it will eventually disappear under the cumulative accretion of all the other shows in the world as time marches inexorably onward toward our eventual deaths.