Are You Truly an Artist if You Recreate the Works of Others?

Are You Truly an Artist if You Recreate the Works of Others?

Briana Hoehn, Writer

The textbook definition of an artist is relatively vague. What some might consider an artist, others could describe simply as a craftsman. Whether it’s to improve one’s technique or simply because they like it, many people presently create art by copying the works of others. But does missing key imaginative factors make them any less of an artist?


Art is a combination of creativity and technical skill. Someone who recreates art has predominantly one side of the equation. However, I don’t think it’s fair to say that they aren’t entirely true artists. Creativity must egress from somewhere, whether it comes from the masters before us, or a reference. Famous portraits like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Grant Wood’s American Gothic didn’t come from nowhere, yet we don’t ridicule them or consider them creators less of artists for having those references. Even if someone has a starting point and doesn’t come up with an artistic idea straight from the colorful cogs turning in their minds, they still , to some degree display, levels of great creativity and expression. 


As someone who sometimes paints depictions of art of the masters to build my technique and ability, I find that I still exhibit and gain imaginativeness from doing so. I recently created a painting that depicted the iconic Girl with the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer. In the beginning of my process, I focused on technicality and precision, looking from reference to canvas reference to canvas, attempting perfect distinctiveness essentially identical to the reference itself. As I continued my project, I found that I began putting less emphasis on the original and more on sculpting my own creative style that I’ll carry with me as I make my own original works of art further down the road. My final product didn’t turn out looking identical to Vermeer’s, and in a way, I’m glad it didn’t. 


While recreating the works of others can still give you some of the essential ingredients to making art, I do think that persistently copying others is playing it too safe and gets boring after some time. Finding a balance between experimenting with what’s been done before us while allowing our own new ideas to emerge is the key to being a good artist. And even if you do just recreate the art that you love and want to express in your own way, you’re still an artist in my book.