“Imitation is the archenemy of imagination.” – Gene Key 64, Richard Rudd, The Gene Keys
While I know the above statement to be true, selective imitation can be a good place to start when you’re first embarking on the path of being an artist. I say selective because if you're going to imitate another's work (in order to learn from them), you might as well choose the best of the best!
One of my assignments in college was to forge a work of art. I chose Vincent van Gogh’s “Red Vineyard at Arles,” pictured below. You can see my forgery assignment right underneath. I learned some amazing tricks from van Gogh throughout this process, and gained insight into his technique in a way I could never have done from only looking at his work or reading about it.
I also learned that no matter how hard you try, you can never really fully imitate anyone else. Here I am showing you a blatant attempt at imitation, and you can still tell the difference!
I revere all my master teachers (van Gogh, David Hockney, Alice Neel, Chaim Soutine, Lucien Freud, J.M.W. Turner, to name a few) that have prepared the ground for young artists like me work with. I am honored to dig up the seeds they have planted, observe them, and plant my own.
One of my favorite quotes is from Ned Rorem’s 1995 memoir, Knowing When to Stop:
“Rimbaud said that art is clever theft. If you’re smart enough to know who you stole from, you try to cover your traces. And the act of covering your traces is the act of genius.”
I always feel deeply connected to who and what came before me, and I know at the same time that nothing I create has ever been created before. The same goes for you! No matter if you call yourself an artist or not, you are a beautiful creator, and the more open you are, the more allow yourself to take a risk and "cover your traces" with the power of your own imagination, the closer you will get to finding your unique expression. Let me rephrase that: your unique expression will find you.