Here is an analogy I used to try to explain the difference between derivative, sub-standard, "bad" art and other art that I loosely describe as "good art". It has nothing to do with education, M.F.A.'s, insider, outsider, etc., just so you don't even go there!
I was talking to the collector, Patric McCoy, this morning, who is very passionate about art. When you see his collection and how he has installed it in his home with the idea of creating visual statements, you know he loves art. Collectors often engage in installation artistry when they place their acquisitions in their living spaces. Patric does that; he has themed "galleries" within each room. I know he has over 300 works. Probably more.
(You can visit Patric's place , major collector Dan Parker and other collectors during one of the tours that Diasporal Rhythms Collectors will have during the year. There is also a regular Bronzeville trolley tour that goes to Steelelife Gallery, Gallery Guichard, Neleh Gallery and the South Side Community Art Center). I think they will be part of Chicago Artists Month again this year. Or ask me. I can get dates.)
So back to bad art/good art. Most people get bad singing. If you sing off-key, most people can detect it. If you don't know the words, people know it. It you screech and have no vocal control or range, people know it. That may not make you unsuccessful, but it will make you eccentric or weird, probably like Tiny Tim who sang a very bad version of Tiptoe Through the Tulips and was, apparently, wildly successful.
So this is pretty much what I said to him.
If you are a singer getting started and trying out for a gig or American Idol, for example, you probably will not want to try to sing songs that Whitney Houston, Alicia Keyes, Frank Sinatra, Patty LaBelle or Tina Tuner already own. Luther VanDross, Stevie Wonder and some others, too many to name, sing with such extraordinary style and expertise, that you will make a negative comparison to yourself, even if you do have a good voice, if you are not sure that you can sing on the same level or better than the original. So singing a standard, or a lesser known song by those artists, rather than a signature Mariah Carey, is a better choice. You still have to be able to sing to get in the game, but imitating an existing champ may put you in an Atlantic City joint rather than Carnegie Hall.
The other part of this is, if you are an exact replica of Barbra Streisand, who cares? There already is one. Originality is critical for every art discipline if you are serious. People understand unoriginal movies, and mostly will not support them. But even if the common man does, the awards community probably will not.
The music consumer understands when music that has been done in the same way is offered up by another musician. Sampling is different, using the music within another context.
Creating visual work "after" another visual artist is not copying. Creating art works inspired by other artists is also fine and part of the on-going continuum.
Artists' statements usually explain where the artist thinks he/she fits. (I say any artist who does not have the mental capacity to write his/her own statement should not be considered an artist; that would eliminate monkeys, elephants, and small children (who cannot be documented making their art from start to finish).
I think we would like art critics and writers to position us and compare and contrast us to other contemporary and historic art practitioners, styles and movements for us. They have studied a wide range of art and will know who your work relates to, and where you fit. Art historians and professional curators can do the same.
Today, artists are asked to contextualize ourselves! Maybe because so many of us are practicing and it's hard for the curators, historians and writers to keep up. Maybe because these folks generally have a narrow, prescribed purview.
Here is an interesting aside. A story about a curator telling an artist that she will NOT be in the Whitney and why (click on artist to read the newspaper account). The artist made a decision to change her work.
Yep. Here I go with the musings and questions...and I hope a few more stabs at clarity.
So give it up! What do you say????