When a student copies

In the days of the Old Masters, apprentices and students would copy their masters’ works over & over again, until they could mimic the technique perfectly. Then, they’d develop their own styles.

When a student (or someone who’s learning a new technique) copies my art exactly–or very closely–I like to think of them in that context. It takes the oh-my-goodness gasp out of the moment.

From my experience, in every class of 30 students, one will want to copy my work very closely, or even line-for-line.

I encourage them to use the class to explore their own creativity. However, some students need to copy, to get comfortable with the materials or the technique.

That’s okay with me. After all, I love to teach, and I’m thrilled when people choose to take a class with me… no matter what their learning modalities.

You may have to exercise your diplomatic skills if one student copies another, or if a student suggests (correctly or not) that another student’s work isn’t entirely original. This rarely happens, but it needs to be addressed swiftly.

Often, it’s best to ask the complaining student to step outside the classroom to discuss this. If the issue doesn’t resolve quickly, you may need to ask the other student to join the conversation.

If you’re out of the classroom for very long, it’s not fair to the other students. Sometimes, you may have to leave it as “Let’s all agree to disagree,” and get back to the class. (When that happens, I usually discover that this has been an ongoing issue with one or both of the students. If so, a five-minute discussion isn’t likely to resolve it; let it go and get back to making the class fun and educational.)

We can’t evaluate every student’s vision, to see if it’s original, copied, or inadvertently “borrows” some elements from existing art. But, in the classroom, I bring up the Old Masters example. That generally takes some of the edge off this volatile subject.

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