02.07.19 / Is Plagiarism Plagiarism if it’s not Plagiarism?

Q: Is Plagiarism Plagiarism if it’s not Plagiarism?
A: Huh?

Allison Goodman and Petrula Vrontikis from Art Center in Los Angeles, California, chat about originality, plagiarism and process.

“Why are students pursuing an education at Graphic design school if it isn’t their intention to become their best, to stretch and work hard?” asks Petrula.

Exactly. Well, let’s start with the number of design students allowed to enrol in design courses across the country being astronomically high. Are there really that many design jobs out there? If you think they’re all going to get work, you’re deluded. Here are some questions for you to ponder: Is the high number of enrolled students a problem? If so, why is it a problem, and how do we go about fixing it? Limit the numbers? But each student pays X amount of dollars to enter the system. Will the educational institution want to lose that money by limiting the number of enrolments? This is another question I can’t answer. But you can think about it.

“You’re in school to challenge yourself, to grow, to admit and discuss when you’ve hit a well and the way over, not around that wall is to ask for help,” continues Petrula. “You’re in a supportive environment, so this is the time to ask for help.

Maybe plagiarism is a fear-based reaction to a situation where you can’t get past a hurdle or a problem. It’s easy enough to investigate if you have access to the research and ideation that the designer used to get to the final draft — and if there isn’t any, or if it’s too lean or disjointed, then in all likelihood you’ve got a problem on your hands.

But what is influence and what is plagiarism?

“I think it’s about process and intention,” says Allison. “And yes, we collect ideas, we research, we experience life, we bring together lots of ideas and if we’re willing to say I looked at this typography and I thought that would be appropriate so I worked with it in the context of all these other things I’m bringing to the table, and you manifest it into a conglomeration of all the things that you think are appropriate for that project, I think you are sparing yourself the agony of plagiarism.”

“It’s about process, it’s about how you put together ideas taken from disparate elements, that’s how I’d draw the line between plagiarism.”

“If they [students] are coming up with an idea, they should at least know who they are referencing, either intentionally or unintentionally. If you’re going to reference Magritte, then you have to understand Magritte… these seminal moments in modernism. I don’t have a problem with the idea of nothing being original. I do have a problem with people being ignorant of these pathways that have been set up, or consciously failing to reference that they got an idea from somewhere. I think that’s what plagiarism [is].”

If you’re imitating while learning, that’s part of your learning, part of your training. It’s important to understand how someone else has done something in order to discover how your work best, to discover your own process.

“Don’t run away from a good idea because you’ve seen it before. Copy it. learn what went into it. if you can, go back to the source material and study it, then you can make it your own,” says Allison.

Look at the world. Get ideas from the world. Understand your process so that if there are any problems then they can be hashed out.

I don't care what frame you use when I ask you why that frame is there, I want you to have an answer. So I think if we take this back to the classroom, we talk about why instead of what, or we talk about developing as a thinker, or as someone who executes great thoughts, I think we’re fine. And if you can talk about your work intelligently.

Not understanding its origin, not understanding its real relationship to why it existed in the first place.

Let’s take a look at Shepard Fairey, who admitted, in his work “Hope”, to lying about the source of the photo the work is based on (from The Associated Press) and of covering up evidence to substantiate his lie. (from The New Yorker, October 17, 2009)

“So, I think the danger with students is, that they look at Shepard Fairey and they think that the clue is, do what Shepard Fairey did, in that they’re going to make art that is formally like he did, but not go through his process. And if they look at the process, they’re actually engaging in an intellectual endeavour that’s worth investigating,” explains Petrula.

“We get influenced by what we see, but if you have an amazing library of articulations you use in your work, then you’re safe. What’s going to give you energy for a lifetime of practice.”

“Now that we’re working in a more collaborative way, the mashup will lead to more interesting outgrowths from different sources.”

Walter Benjamin – from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction — said: “Mechanical reproduction emancipators the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.”

“Everything we do is an imitation of the format that came before us and it takes a moment in time to push it forward,” surmises Allison.

So, remember, students and professionals alike — learn from what came before, but use that work to inform your own process, visual language, and methodology.


— QS

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Heath Campbell

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