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Effects of Copying Artwork on Creativity

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Arts
Wordcount: 1806 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The Purpose of the Review of the Literature

 In this review of the literature, I will discuss copying artwork and its effects on creativity.  As a child, I always drew what I saw, whether it be trees, people, animals, or scenery.  In doing this, there was no originality to any drawings I created.  I’d ask myself what I could do to become more creative, more original.  This question stayed with me for years.  I couldn’t understand how my friends could come up with a drawing idea is seconds, while it would take me days.  Was creativity something innate?  Or was it able to be taught?  I sought out answers to my questions.  My friends were always copying cartoons that they saw or artworks that inspired them.  In art class, the art students are copying famous artworks.  They would imitate the masters’ drawing and painting techniques within their works.  They would focus on brush strokes and details one would not notice from afar.  In my eyes, in some cases, they’d gain a better understanding of the artwork by imitating the master’s process.  Did copying artworks help boost creativity?  The goal of this literature review is to consider if copying artwork leads to creativity.  I will discuss findings of copying artwork leading to creativity, what copying artwork teaches us, and the downfall of copying artworks.  

Creativity with Copying

 All artworks have creativity found within it.  If so, then how is creativity achieved?  Creativity is believed to be made through the copying of artworks by some.  As Okada states, “Imitation of others’ artworks facilitated more creative drawing” (Okada & Ishibashi, 2017).  When you imitate an artwork, you are focusing in on every detail and method used to create that work.  A better understanding of the work is accomplished in this process.  These new techniques and methods that were copied can now be applied to other artworks. 

“These ‘acts of memory’, gestures of reference and recall, serve to situate the artwork, offering a site for dialogue and exchange, reminding us that the practices of imitation are neither an afterthought to original creation nor a synonym for copying, but a dynamic, creative activity through which representational practices and protocols seek a tangible form” (Duro, 2014).

Here Duro says unto us that the imitation of artwork is the facilitating of excellent art skills, and therefore creative in its own light.  In Louis Racine’s article, he commented that a continual invention is an example of good imitation (Racine, 1969).  He was referring to the potential for imitation to transcend mere copying and engage in artistic creativity.  According to George Moore, Edgar Degas told Moore, that what he creates is a result of the great masters through reflection and studying (Moore, 1918).  Implicating that copying the masters was a way of studying them and producing one’s own individual way of producing art.  In Okada’s article, he did an experiment to determine if copying artwork did indeed lead to creativity.  His findings were remarkable.  Not only did copying artwork did indeed indicate creativity but viewing other people’s drawings and works did as well (Okada & Ishibashi, 2017).

What Copying Teaches

 Copying artworks has been done for centuries.  McKinnon agrees with this.  In his article, he states that copying is a successful method for honing creative skills and acquiring critical engagement.  There must be something right with copying artworks if we continue to do it today.  Stankiewicz stated within her book that students had to learn how to copy and analyze artwork before they were able to create original works (Stankiewicz, 2011).  What exactly does copying teach us?  Wilson and Wilson suggest that children receive confidence and learn skills by copying (Wilson & Wilson, 1977).  Copying teaches the skills of the artist that is being copied. Lamme states,

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“At some stages in the drawing process it may be true that copying other artists will stifle children’s creativity and individuality but as Michelle’s brother so keenly observed, there was a time when copying her older brother was very facilitative of her development.  Often when children copied adults or peers, they went beyond merely copying and added a new dimension to the drawing on their own.” (Lamme 1994).

What this implies, in my mind, is that in copying another’s work, one inevitably produces their own interpretation of that work, facilitating creativity in their process.

The Downfall of Copying Artworks

 While copying artwork has shown many positives to creativity, there has been evidence showing differently.  Okada and Ishibashi themselves stated that the findings they found within their research were not clear to whether or not copying artwork lead to creativity with expert artists (Okada & Ishibashi, 2017).  Their study was based on beginners, not experts.  Expert artists have years of experience with creativity; this is entirely different compared to beginners.  Beginners, like children, have no prior knowledge of creating and art and being creative.  As Lamme discusses, “[w]hen children learn to copy they will remain copiers and not progress beyond the work that is their model (Lamme, 1994).  Children do not understand how to go beyond copying.  They tend not to know how to incorporate their newly gained knowledge to other aspects of art.


 I believe that coping artwork can be useful if copied correctly.  Does copying create creativity?  I am not sure about my answer to this question.  Reproduction is a great way to understand an artwork better if you copy it intently.  You cannot truly copy an artwork without copying the technique or method used to create the work.  I could copy a Kandinsky movement painting by painting lines and adding color throughout my work, but this would not be an exact imitation of a Kandinsky painting.  For me to truly copy his work, I would need to be listening to classical music.  With each sound, I heard I would create a line that symbolized that sound to me.  Then, with each different instrument, I heard I would paint with a color to coordinate.  Such as, if I heard a trumpet, I would paint with the color yellow, or if I heard a violin, I would use violet.  Kandinsky was a movement painter; therefore, to accurately copy him, I would need to understand how he painted and why.

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 By copying artwork over and over again, one is thought to become better at the practice.  This is the whole idea that practice makes perfect.  Copying is a way of practice.  The more practice one receives, the more confident they feel in their ability.  I completely agree with this.  I look back to when I was little; when I was first learning how to draw hearts.  I would try to copy a heart drawing from a book I had.  Each time I drew it, I would have an “m” with a “v” underneath.  This was the closest I could get. I never gave up.  Through practice, I began to focus more on the curves on the heart.  I noticed that both sides were symmetrical to one another.  With this newly gained knowledge and more practice, I was able to draw a heart finally. 

I also see how copying can be a downfall to creativity.  If all you do is copy one single artwork that will be all you know how to do.  When copying works, one needs to focus more on techniques and methods rather than replicating the work in front of them.

 Overall, copying artwork can lead to creativity and teach us a variety of things, such as confidence.  Copying can be hurting to one’s art if all they do is copy and implement techniques and methods to new works.


  • Duro, P. (2014). Why Imitation, and Why Global? Art History37(4), 606–627. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1111/1467-8365.12106
  • Moore, G. (1918). ‘Memories of Degas’,  Burlington Magazine, 32, 22–9, 63–5 (64).
  • Kennedy, R. (2007, Dec 06). If the copy is an artwork, then what’s the original? New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/docview/848096683?accountid=10705
  • Lamme, L. L., & Thompson, S. (1994). “Copy? . . . real artists don’t copy!” But maybe children should. Art Education47, 46–51. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.2307/3193465
  • Racine, L. (1969). ‘De l’utilité de l’imitation, et de la manière d’imiter’, Oeuvres completes, Geneva, 2, 405–6.
  • McKinnon, J. (2011). Creative Copying?: The Pedagogy of Adaptation. Canadian Theatre Review, (147), 55–60. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.3138/ctr.147.55
  • Okada, T., & Ishibashi, K. (2017). Imitation, Inspiration, and Creation: Cognitive Process of Creative Drawing by Copying Others’ Artworks. Cognitive Science41(7), 1804–1837. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1154396&site=ehost-live
  • Rizq, R. (2014). Copying, Cloning and Creativity: Reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. British Journal of Psychotherapy30(4), 517–532. https://doi-org.proxy1.library.eiu.edu/10.1111/bjp.12115
  • Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). We aim at order and hope for beauty. Roots of Art Education Practice. Art Education in Practice Series. Davis Publications, Inc., 50 Portland Street, Worcester, MA 01608 – 2013.
  • Wilson, B & Wilson, M. (1977). An iconoclastic view of the imagery sources in the drawings of young people. Art Education, 30, 4-11.


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