This is a story about a picture and the internet. Perhaps a cautionary tale, or just a commentary on the using the internet for your art inspiration and the consequences of sharing your work online.
I’m currently learning to paint or rather practicing painting and at a stage of trying different techniques and mediums to see what suits me. I recently followed a course online about Post-war Abstract Expressionists (here) and found that trying out painting in the style of a particular artist teaches you a lot. I watched a programme about Japanese art and a contemporary calligrapher who does huge word art, with a massive brush and dripping black ink, spends a few hours each morning meticulously copying the work of great masters. By this practice she learns a lot from them, even though they are long dead, and that influences her own work. This has been a way that artists throughout the centuries have learnt their craft.
In our modern day we no longer have to go to an art gallery to see the great masterpieces or rely on a poor reproduction in a book, in a library perhaps. We have the internet with its infinite information and images.
Finding an Inspiring Image
I was seeking some internet inspiration, looking up particular artists that were mentioned in another programme, The Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collins. (As an aside I find the work of Emma Biggs and Matthew Collins very interesting and inspiring).
I like to use Twitter as a bookmarking-cum-curating tool some days. It’s perhaps not the best platform and not necessarily a good way to use it, but that’s what I do. I use Twitter to search for images then retweet those I like so they are there saved for later. I like to retweet a series of images that have a connection and on top of the connection (eg all by a particular artist) they will also be images I like.
A few weeks ago I was on a Kandinsky quest and amongst the many images I retweeted was the one at the start of this post and shown in the embedded tweet below (retweeted 67 times at the time of writing).
It really pulled me in. The bright colours, the rainbow graduation, the geometric shapes. I think it’s fabulous and decided I would try and paint a version using acrylics on watercolour paper.
To start with I focused on getting a pencil outline of the shapes freehand. I tried to look very carefully, but my shapes went astray and the proportions weren’t right. I scrapped that and thought I would start again and use a grid to guide me. I downloaded the image from Twitter onto my Android tablet then found an app that let me put a grid over it, drew a grid on my paper, then drew the outlines of the shapes using the grid as my guide. This was much better. (There are lots of apps for this. I picked Drawing Grid Maker).
Over the next few days I spent a few hours putting colour on. As I was looking closely at my source I saw the detail. I wondered what medium the original was and what size. It looked like watercolour to me, but maybe that was an illusion of scale. Maybe really it was oil and much larger. I was just looking at a 3.5” square trying to paint it at 6” square. Maybe the difficulty was the scale? Using a different medium was also going to give a different overall look. None of this was really important as I wasn’t aiming to produce a forgery or precise copy, but I became more interested and wanted to find out more about the original.
Hello, Google, my friend. What can you find for me?
Google Image Search to Find Out More
Did you know that you can search on google for an image? You can upload an image to the image search (click on the camera icon and either put in a URL or upload an image) and it will find places that image appears or one close to it. Google’s image search for this one came up with the best guess as being “Wassily Kandinsky Art”. How clever is that! This is the result of the search https://goo.gl/V1dUxK
It is well worth a look at that search. See how many times this image has been shared, and in all cases attributed to Kandinsky, but, as you will see below, falsely!
There are hundreds of Pinterest shares. It is one of my bugbears about Pinterest that it is so hard to get to the original source of something. But the image has also been used in blog posts and lesson plans as if it actually is by the artist. Here are some examples:
- Wassily Kandinsky 1886 by Trudy Johnson https://www.tes.com/lessons/GhnzDwGm4KmqgQ/a-wassily-kandinsky-1886 (no link to source or attribution)
- Art as the Zeitgeist, Prof Qualls’ Course Blogs, 20 March 2016, implied attribution to Kandinsky http://blogs.dickinson.edu/quallsk/2016/03/20/art-as-the-zeitgeist/
- Attributed to Kandinsky on Artstack https://theartstack.com/artist/wassily-kandinsky-vasilii-vasil-ievich-kandinskii/freudian-slip
- Attributed to Kandinsky as an example for an art class https://theknollsofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/art-class-with-amy-8/
- Attributed to Kandinsky in blogpost on art history https://joyscreativespace.wordpress.com/art-history/
- Attributed to Kandinsky in a collection of his images “Awesome Artist Part69: Wassily Kandinsky” http://imgur.com/gallery/8QN0U
The Truth About This Image
I have tracked down the original source as being this piece by Artwyrd on Deviant Art called “Kandinsky Inspired 3” (https://artwyrd.deviantart.com/art/Kandinsky-Inspired-3-116802909). It is indeed watercolour and only 6″ x 6″, so actually approximately the size I am working to. Further delving suggests that Artwyrd on Deviantart is Angela Porter (@Wyrdsmithing on Twitter) who also has a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AngelaPorterArtwyrd/)
The image was posted on 22 March 2009. It had 83 favourites and 34 comments at the time of writing. I posted a message to Angela to check if she had copied a Kandinsky piece (to try to get to the source) or just been inspired by his work. Her reply was:
“It isn’t a copy of a Kandinsky, but an experiment in being inspired by his work, honestly! I know I’ve come across people who think it’s by Kandinsky and when I do, I correct them, or try to … Honestly, I just looked at Kandinsky’s work, analysed the elements he used, and then did what I could to do something in his style!”
I think that Angela Porter deserves recognition and reward for this piece of art that has been hailed by so many as being a Kandinsky. If it was by that artist then would it not have a very high price tag? Is it not as good, as worthy? Well that is a whole other debate about the price of art!
Does it matter?
Yes I think it does matter! For two reasons:
- The artist who created this picture, Angela Porter, is not being acknowledged and being given the recognition she deserves.
- This is like fake news. It is false art history, false facts. It isn’t Angela who is propagating this, it’s people who do not think and check before they share. What is the point of learning about art history if you are actually learning false facts? You are looking at pictures that are not by the artist that you think they are.
Overall I think this is a very inspiring image and being inspired by it is not altered by who has made it. But if you are writing about art and sourcing information online you need to check your facts carefully.